$50 Million to Save Black and Brown Boys

Your Take: One man's campaign to keep young men of color from becoming just another prison statistic.

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* Third-grade reading level. Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma. Yet more than 80 percent of our third-grade black boys cannot read at grade level.

* Suspensions and early truancy. Every suspension doubles the chance that a student will drop out and triples the chance that he will be involved with the justice system. A new report found that 1 million elementary school students were truant -- defined as having three or more unexcused absences or tardies -- in California last year.

* Justice-system involvement. The system is expensive, harms kids and doesn't keep us safe.

A young man struggling with any of these problems might as well be wearing a sign around his neck that says, "Please help me. I may be heading toward prison." It's in everyone's interest to listen, to get him the help he needs and to help him stay on track. This is what pediatricians do for the child with the cigarette burn. After we evaluate the child and discover the burn, we interview his parents and assess the home for safety. Protection for the child and support for the family is implemented.

The California Endowment, a private statewide health foundation, will dedicate $50 million toward supporting this early-warning system. In seven years we promise to fund partner organizations and programs with three goals. First, we will improve attendance by 30 percent in targeted schools and cut in half the number of kids suspended and instead use proven positive discipline strategies that keep kids on track.

We will implement "restorative" justice and other justice-system diversionary programs in 10 communities so that kids and communities can come together to resolve conflicts and keep kids out of juvenile hall. And we'll enroll every eligible child in our target communities in Obamacare and connect each one with a high-quality health provider to coordinate care.

I want to state these goals publicly for two reasons. First, so you can hold us accountable. And second, so I can invite you to join us. It's going to take all of us -- in business, government, nonprofits -- to invest in these young men and believe in them. They are a source of strength, creativity and economic dynamism. Our state's diversity is our greatest strength and competitive advantage. We are in this together.

Dr. Robert Ross is the chief executive officer of the California Endowment, a health foundation established to address the health needs of Californians.

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