This past weekend we lost two more young boys to violence on our streets. These young men were killed in my old neighborhood in Hollis, Queens. One of these young men was an innocent bystander who was part of the “Bury Da Beef/Life Camp” an anti violence campaign I support in Queens. The plain fact is these men are me. I am them.
In that spirit, last night I hosted a benefit at my home for the Eagle Academy for Young Men. Eagle is a series of all boys public schools in New York City: one in the South Bronx, one in Brownsville, Brooklyn and a new one starting in September in my old neighborhood in Southeast, Queens. Eagle started six years ago and was the first all boys public school in New York City in more than 30 years, and at the time, the only all boys public school in the country.
Eagle’s mission is to Save Our Sons, literally. We are losing our young men of color all across our nation. Eagle believes that our boys are facing a crisis of dire proportions. They have recognized our boys are unique when it comes to education, especially our young men of color. In New York City alone, young men of color have a 38% graduation rate. 38%!! Eagle has doubled that rate and is now graduating men at over 85%, with 90% of those going off to college.
When you look at the crisis that boys of color are facing nationally the numbers are alarming:
*70% of those who receive Ds and Fs in school are boys
*Boys account for 80% of high school dropouts
*70% of children diagnosed with learning disabilities and 80% diagnosed with behavioral problems are boys
*Boys lag on average a year to a year and half behind girls in reading and writing
There is one other statistic which is frightening and which was a driving force for the creation of the Eagle movement: 70% of the men incarcerated in New York State come from 7 specific neighborhoods in New York City. This is true in most urban communities all across the country. The fact is we know where, what blocks even, these young men come from. Where we lose them. What corner, literally, they lose hope on. So Eagle’s guiding principle has been: enough is enough! We are going to put a high performing school in those neighborhoods and we are going to fight to save these young men at the source…on the block.
The Eagle Academy Foundation, a 501c3, was established to provide funding for Eagle Academy’s programs which have played a critical role in their success. Some of these initiatives include a mentoring program, the Saturday Institute, comprehensive after school programs, a lengthened school day, the Summer Bridge program, greater demands on parental involvement, peer to peer support systems, a comprehensive teacher professional development institute and strong principal leadership.
Last night I had the privilege of meeting some of these young men from Eagle. They brought tears to our eyes. What blew me away was how much they cared about each other. The brotherhood they had formed to watch out for each other, to support each other, raise expectations on each other and hold each other accountable. It was an inspiring evening of which I was proud to be part of.