Removing Barriers and Creating Opportunities

Male teacher speaks with young men of color in a cafeteria

As an integral component of the effort to build a national Culture of Health, RWJF looks for ways to grow support across sectors to address disparities in health and opportunity that affect young men of color.

The Issue

Young men of color (ages 12–18) who grow up in poverty, live in unsafe neighborhoods, and attend low-resource schools face a difficult path to a healthy and productive adulthood. Research informs how proven messaging strategies can raise awareness of the needs of young men of color and grow support for action from diverse sectors that can contribute to their future health.

Key Findings

Researchers recommend growing support for programs to help young men of color using messages that:

  • Talk about what all kids need—food, a safe place to live and a loving family—to frame how barriers make it harder for young men of color to succeed in school and find opportunities to work.

  • Show, don’t tell what it is like to be a young man of color who does not have a father or positive male role model in his life.

  • Tell solution stories that include contextual information—of the situation, teachers, judges, patents and mentors—to paint a picture of how a solution works.

  • Use values-based words such as family, responsibility, second chances, school and opportunities to illicit empathy when crafting messages around emotionally complex or controversial issues.

  • Deploy trusted messengers—adults such as a judge, educator, police officer or business leader—to model acceptance, empathy and understanding of young men.


“Our research tells us that a different narrative about young men of color—one that underscores a common humanity—can significantly move and change hearts and minds,” the authors write in their closing.

About the Study

A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation research team conducted focus groups and administered online surveys to adults to inform this 24-page messaging guide.

This Report Was Inspired By

Forward Promise

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise  program works to give secondary-school boys and young men of color opportunities for better health through education and jobs.

Read more

From Our Blog

It's clear that young men of color face daunting barriers to health that directly impact their potential to succeed and thrive. RWJF's Maisha Simmons reflects on what it would look like for every young man of color to grow up in a Culture of Health.

Read the blog post