For New Rochelle High School Principal Reginald Richardson, growing up black in a single-parent household in the Bronx wasn’t easy, but he says his ability to succeed was due largely to good luck in the form of exceptional teachers and mentors. So, when President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), the initiative that challenges cities across the US to help boys and young men of color reach their full potential, Richardson jumped at the chance to get involved. At the same time, New Rochelle City Councilman and civil-rights attorney Jared Rice was working to convince New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson to take on the MBK challenge. Rice succeeded, and, as of April 2015, the city of New Rochelle and the New Rochelle school district joined forces to become the first city or town in Westchester County to accept the MBK challenge.
With Richardson and Rice as co-chairs of the MBK New Rochelle Initiative, the city is now one of more than 200 MBK communities around the nation leading the charge to eliminate the gap between young men of color and their peers in school performance, higher education and career trajectory.
MBK is not funded (there are no guaranteed grants), so New Rochelle is taking on this challenge simply because, according to Richardson, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He explains, “In my opinion, this change requires two things: first, acknowledging the history that created these inequities, and second, the public’s will to change. These two things came together in New Rochelle.”
Echoing Obama’s assertion that by almost every measure, young men of color are faltering, Richardson ticks off the harsh reality faced by New Rochelle’s minorities: “Today in New Rochelle, approximately 94 percent of the white students graduate on time, whereas approximately 82 percent of black students and only 76 percent of Latino students graduate on time.”
Still, Richardson and Rice are optimistic about New Rochelle’s ability to eliminate the gap because New Rochelle already has all of the necessary resources in place; it’s just a matter of aligning those resources accordingly. “We are avoiding recreating the wheel,” says Rice. We have a city and a school district that anchor the MBK Initiative, then we have 120 community partners [including Westchester Community College, the Youth Bureau, churches, and nonprofits] that are now all talking about My Brother’s Keeper.” Early examples of this include initiatives to improve the relationship between the police and young men of color, peer mentoring and college-readiness programs.
New Rochelle High School Principal Reginald Richardson (left) and City Councilman Jared Rice, two of MBK’s earliest advocates.
Looking to the not-so-distant future, Richardson says, “It’s my hope to eliminate the high-school graduation-rate gap in the next 3 to 5 years. I want to bring that gap within no more than two to five percentage points between white, black, Latino and Hispanic students.” Rice adds: “I believe that we will reach these goals [and] that we will be a model for success for other communities who take a look at what we’re doing and follow suit.”