Commentary: California Must Invest in Young Men of Color This Budget Season

Commentary: California Must Invest in Young Men of Color This Budget Season

WRITTEN BY MICHAEL LYNCH | SPECIAL TO CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA PARTNERS

College matters. Obtaining a college degree continues to be the most powerful tool we have to combat poverty. College graduates earn more than $1 million more in their lifetime than individuals with a high school diploma. For low-income youth, it is the most promising path out of poverty.

Despite the economic value of a college degree, Black and Brown boys are still the least likely group to attend and graduate from college. This disparity is not due to lack of intelligence or work ethic on their part; rather, it’s because school systems often inhibit their ability to be successful.

I co-founded Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT) in 2013 with the goal of increasing the number of young men of color attending and graduating from colleges and universities. Since our founding, IYT has served over 8,000 young men of color in Sacramento and beyond. After two years of participating in IYT, 99% of our students graduate from high school on time, and nearly 80% go on to attend college.

If we were a school district, our students would be the highest-performing Black and Brown boys in America.

Over the years, we’ve looked to the State, private funders, and others to support our efforts. Two years ago, we joined California’s Student Success Coach Learning Network to share our methods and to learn from other organizations mentoring youth in school systems across the state. The two-year, $15 million grant allocated by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the Student Success Coach Learning Network was instrumental in expanding our work with students, especially those needing more personalized support beyond regular school hours.

Now, this grant funding is set to expire, and it may not be renewed as California faces a budget deficit of billions of dollars.

To continue our vital work at its current level, we are asking the State of California to include funding for the California Student Success Coach Learning Network and other programs of this kind in its upcoming budget.

We urge others who believe in the power of mentorship to join us in our call to action. This funding is not just about supporting our organization; it's about investing in the future of California education and ensuring that young men of color have the resources and guidance they need to succeed.

I recently received an email from Rogel Noel, one of our first IYT alumni. Rogel joined the program as a freshman at Valley High School in South Sacramento. When he started high school and joined IYT, he only spoke English for a few years. As an Afro-Latino male from the Dominican Republic, Rogel had tremendous obstacles to becoming a college graduate. Rogel was being raised by a phenomenal single mother who was working multiple jobs to provide for their family. But unfortunately, he lived in one of Sacramento’s most crime-rife neighborhoods, Valley Hi. Just walking to school was, at times, risking his life.

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When Rogel joined IYT, he struggled in school but showed tremendous promise. He was paired with a mentor and started to attend our after-school study halls. A couple of times per year, he visited colleges across the state. During his junior year in high school, he participated in IYT’s Capital Internship program and interned in the State Assembly. After a couple of semesters in IYT, Rogel became an honor roll student.

Last year, Rogel graduated from Sonoma State with a degree in Psychology, becoming the first in his family to graduate from a four-year university. Now working as a medical consultant, Rogel emailed me to request a letter of recommendation for graduate school to become a social worker!

Because Rogel was mentored and served through IYT, he wants to do the same for others.

The Student Success Coach Learning Network plays a pivotal role in our ability to serve our community effectively. This network connects organizations like ours with valuable resources, and it ensures that we can provide the highest quality mentorship and support to Sacramento's young men of color, helping them overcome obstacles and reach their full potential.

We urge policymakers to prioritize funding for California’s Student Success Coach Learning Network and similar mentorship programs. We are not asking for a handout; we are asking for an investment in the future of our students. The community's future depends on the investments we make today in tomorrow’s leaders.

About the Author

Michael Lynch is Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Improve Your Tomorrow, Inc., a national non-profit organization based in Sacramento, California. Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT) was founded in 2013 with the mission to increase the number of young men of color (YMOC) to attend and graduate from colleges and universities.

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