Five New Jersey YMCAs are joining the Boys and Young Men of Color initiative to support and advance life outcomes for those facing profound challenges growing up.
Darrin Anderson, the chief executive office for the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance, said the opportunity to join the nationwide program occurred after working with legislative leadership like Sen. Cory Booker, who co-sponsored legislation that established the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.
“We didn’t do it just because Sen. Booker was a big supporter of it,” said Anderson. “We joined it because it needs to be done here in New Jersey — especially in some of our lower-income communities. So, I reached out to a number of our YMCAs because I wanted to have a mixture of urban and suburban opportunities to launch this initiative.”
The five YMCAs forming the inaugural cohort include YMCA of Montclair, Greater Somerset County YMCA, Gateway Family YMCA in Elizabeth, the Capital Area YMCA in Trenton and YMCA of Newark.
Anderson said they are still in strategic planning mode after doing a soft launch in Fall of 2022. However, a few of the Y’s in the group are planning larger launch events in January.
The Boys and Young Men of Color initiative began in 2020 at 26 YMCAs in 16 states with a goal of reaching 100 cities across the country and to 10,000 boys and young men of color by 2024. It’s now offered at Ys representing 54 cities in 25 states.
Anderson said the program is based on research findings from a study on race and economic opportunity, which showed neighborhoods where young men of color do well with shared commonalities.
“Each YMCA will create their own structure that’s unique to the kids they are serving — that’s the beauty of the program,” said Anderson. “There are certain components we are asking to be part of this initiative like STEM, life skills and Y leaders programs. We also want to look at college and career readiness and character development. We also want to talk about the values of the YMCA, belonging in a community, and civic engagement as well.”
Of the advantages of the Boys and Young Men of Color program, Anderson said it could be a deterrent to gun violence.
“How can we engage these young men so they can have self-worth but also see the value in others?” said Anderson. “Picking up a gun or having access to a gun is not the way. They can find other ways to divert their energy and time positively.”
Other benefits of the program include getting young men to graduate from high school and solving social isolation.
“If they can graduate high school, then they are more likely to be on the trajectory to obtain a job that provides them long-term sustainability,” said Anderson. “Social isolation is real not only among seniors. Through research, we learned our teens and college students are actually more socially isolated.”
Moving forward, Anderson said one major goal is to expand the program into possibly all of the YMCAs in New Jersey. Currently, there are 31 corporate Ys in the state.
Anderson said another major factor in the success of the program has been partnership and collaboration — both of which are essential if other Ys from around the country want to join.
“What’s more important is this is a grassroots effort,” said Anderson. “We want the youth to know they have social support, and the YMCA has created a social enterprise. This will innovate and help young men be able to elevate their opportunity and the hope that’s really lacking in our communities. That’s very important to get out there.”
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