Building a Culture of Health by Creating Opportunities for Boys and Young Men of Color

Building a Culture of Health by Creating Opportunities for Boys and Young Men of Color

RWJF makes a new, $13 million commitment to Forward Promise; seven issue briefs examine key barriers that limit health and success for boys and young men of color.

The Issue

Boys and young men of color continue to face the challenges of living in communities of poverty, attending under-resourced schools, facing high rates of violence and trauma, and having limited job prospects. These early disadvantages affect their life prospects and their health, including shorter life spans than their white peers.

In conjunction with the announcement of a new, $13 million commitment to Forward Promise, an initiative to improve the prospects of boys and young men of color, RWJF commissioned seven issue briefs that examine key barriers to health and success for young men of color, as well as some promising practices. With this information, the Foundation hopes to engage schools, communities, and governments in a national dialogue on how to turn around the disturbing trends outlined below.

Issue Brief Topics

  • Unequal access to early childhood education—Families of color face obstacles—bureaucratic, financial, cultural, and geographical—in accessing quality early childhood education. Programs that have increased the number of children in licensed child care, also show improved reading proficiency, an important educational foundation.
  • Disproportionate expulsion and suspension from preschool—Hispanic and African American boys account for 46% of boys in preschool but constitute 66% of suspensions, a practice that continues through high school. They experience academic failure and are more likely to drop out of school and face incarceration. To help reverse this trend, teachers can be supported to deal with behavior problems and overcome intentional or unintentional biases about boys and children of color.
  • Poor graduation rates—African American, Hispanic, and Native American youth have higher dropout rates (5–7%) than whites (2%) with a huge cost to society in lower incomes earned and lower taxes paid. Effective dropout protection strategies including a systemic approach, school-community collaborations, a safe learning environment, and family engagement.
  • Trauma and violence leave lasting scars—Trauma and violence disproportionately burden boys and young men of color who suffer toxic stress imposed by chronic poverty, racism, unconscious bias, and brutality at the hands of police. Promising solutions address trauma and violence and promote healing and resilience.
  • Trauma among gay, bisexual, and queer young men of color—These young men are susceptible to a variety of mental health disparities, substance abuse, and sexual behaviors that put them at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They are more likely to become victims of bullying, hate violence, and crimes. Innovative work is being done to advocate for social justice and empowerment for these young men.
  • Few career pathways available—Young men form American Indian/Alaskan Native and Black low-income families are disproportionately affected by declines in employment. Public policies and philanthropic investments can provide young men with early work skills and meaningful credentials and help them gain access to employment opportunities and careers.
  • School discipline issues—Black boys are suspended at a rate three times their white peers. Suspensions add up to 18 million days of loss instructional time. Awareness of disparities in discipline rates has led to reforms in some communities but more needs to be done to cut high school dropout rates and protect civil rights against subjective and vague criminal offensives, such as “disturbing the school environment.”


Only when we eliminate disparities and expand the opportunities for young men of color can we create a national Culture of Health where everyone can grow up healthy, get a good education, and find meaningful employment. 

About the Issue Briefs

RWJF commissioned the Moriah Group to develop these issue briefs in collaboration with other partners. The Moriah Group is an international consulting firm focused on enhancing outcomes for children and youth through improved education, child and youth development, and community development strategies. They support clients with policy research, data analysis, strategic planning, cross-system partnership building, program evaluation and documentation, and other specialized projects benefitting children and youth. For more information, visit