February 11, 2015
Karl Racine, Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
441 4th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Attorney General Racine:
I write today to express my strong support for the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative recently announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser and District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) Chancellor Kaya Henderson. This extraordinary initiative would provide tailored educational opportunities for the District of Columbia’s young men of color. While there is reasonable disagreement with some components of this initiative, we have a responsibility to work together to find real-world solutions for these students.
Every child in the District of Columbia deserves to have access to a high-quality public education. We must recognize, however, that our system of school choice is built on the proposition that different children succeed in different environments. I applaud Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Henderson for being willing to explore programming that meets the particular needs of one of our most underserved populations, young men of color.
Young men of color too often live with poverty, violence, and academic failure. When we look at our children’s proficiency rates by subgroup, we find that young men of color lag substantially behind their peers. Only 32% of black male students are proficient in reading, compared to 89% of white male students. Only 48% of black male students graduated from high school in 2014, while 82% of white male students graduated. Latino male students do not fare much better. This dramatic and unacceptable gap is seen across the board, in attendance, student satisfaction, and student discipline. Of course, the gap between young men of color and their peers is seen not just in percentages and data points, but also in the immeasurable day-to-day challenges they face. It is long-past time that our government focuses on the unique needs of this population.
As the father of two young girls, I am acutely aware of the dangers of gender inequity in public education. In fact, I was proud to re-introduce the “Title IX Athletic Equity Act of 2015”, which would promote gender equity in athletic participation, funding, and expenditures. It is significant that the legislation’s title contains the word “equity” instead of “equality”; this important distinction recognizes that all programming must be robust, but that not every population has the same needs. It was with this fundamental truth in mind that I worked to create the Commission on Fathers, Men, and Boys, which will address the social and economic disparities of children of color. I believe it was also in this spirit that Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Henderson announced the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative.
President Obama called our nation to action to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by young men of color through his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. “Empowering Males of Color” is the District of Columbia’s exciting response to our President’s call. We owe it to our young men of color to support the goals of this initiative and to explore whether same-gender schools might help them close the gap.
Kenyan R. McDuffie
Councilmember, Ward 5
Chair Pro Tempore
Chair, Committee on the Judiciary