In the wake of the Michael Brown and Ezell Ford shootings, California lawmakers are urging for the need to close barriers that continue to exist for young boys and men of color.
A newly introduced state bill would create one of the first ever interagency task forces in California to improve outcomes for young boys and men of color. AB 80 was introduced by Assembly member Nora Campos (D-San Jose).
"We must bring all the key agencies together and have a systematic discussion on what's preventing our men and women of color from thriving. AB 80 is the vehicle to make this happen," Assembly member Campos told KCET in an email.
With the introduction of the bill, Campos hopes to tackle deadly use of force by law enforcement as well as the educational shortcomings and income inequality facing low-income, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities in California.
"This would start productive conversations between the public and law enforcement, which will bring communities closer and help ease the tensions we see today," said Campos.
The 21-member task force would consist of members from the Legislature, as well as various state agencies including the Employment Development Department, UC offices, and Cal State University offices, according to legislative director Erasmo Viveros. The task force would focus on education, law enforcement, jobs, human services, among other fields. It would conduct a study and then propose recommendations, goals, and policies.
The bill would also align with President Obama's federal initiative, My Brother's Keeper, which aims to enhance opportunities for young boys and men of color nationwide.
Similar bills introduced in the last legislation session included Assembly member Steven Bradford's AB 914, which failed to pass.
AB 80 would also serve as a way to closely examine policies that are not working, explained Campos.
"For almost a decade, we have focused on cutting programs that served our most marginalized communities, all for the sake of balancing the budget," said Campos. "Well, California's future prosperity is now in danger. Now is the time to start chopping away at the policies that prevent our young people of color, and therefore all of California, from succeeding," she added.
Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, recently elected as chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, believes that the creation of the task force will help create solutions to systemic problems that serve as impediments for boys and men of color in California.
The NAACP reports that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, and constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
"Across California, boys and men of color continue to face serious impediments to success, as evident by the percentage of those who graduate high school, attend college, obtain employment, and are incarcerated," Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer told KCET in an email. "AB 80 takes a significant step forward to addressing these issues, by convening a task force of leaders across the state to create solutions to these systemic problems," he added.
Debra Watkins, founder and executive director of California Alliance of African American Educators, believes more steps need to be done taken to address the education and opportunity barriers facing young boys and men of color. It starts with early education and STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) programs to help young people of color succeed.
"What's needed is long-term scaffolding of their success, just like what we've done with our STEM program up here [in Northern California]," said Watkins. "And that's where you don't just drop resources on kids and expect them to navigate the system by themselves. No. People basically have to co-parent and stay with them and make sure they don't fall through the cracks," she said.