Forward Promise Wants Your Ideas to Improve Health, Success of Young Men of Color

Many barriers make the path to adulthood especially difficult for young men of color of all races. They are more likely to grow up in poverty, live in unsafe neighborhoods and go to under-resourced schools. The Children Defense Fund’s Report: the State of America’s Children 2011 tells us that children of color are behind on virtually every measure of child well-being. They face multiple risks that put them on the pipeline to prison rather than the pipeline to college, productive employment and successful futures.

Moreover, actions that for other young men would be treated as youthful mistakes are judged more severely and are more likely to have lasting consequences. The opportunities they have and the decisions they make in those formative years play a major role in determining whether they earn a degree, can compete for good jobs and take care of themselves and their own families. What is at stake for America is the possibility of losing an entire generation of productive men, who will fall short of their potential, live less healthy and successful lives, and fail to build and strengthen their communities.

Forward Promise - a new initiative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) - seeks to find the best ideas to help young men of color succeed in life, school and work. Through this Call for Ideas, we are actively seeking ideas from a broad group of individuals and organizations - ideas that will inform our furture grantmaking strategy. Ultimately, Forward Promise will identify promising and innovative programs, policies and approaches to evaluate what works, and spread successful models to communities that need them.

To date, Forward Promise has received several ideas - both currently functional and operating on the ground and those still in formative stages. There’s the idea, for example, of one woman in San Carlos, CA who proposes turning community schools into "Neighborhood Living and Learning Centers." Under her proposal, schools would become more than learning institutions for students - they would be the center of community life for youth and adults interested in adult education, recreation, art, tutoring and mentorships, volunteerism and grassroots organizing. Another submission came to us from a nonprofit in Panama City, FL interested in creating an entrepreneurship program to provide vocational, retail, wholesale distribution and private label manufacturing training for at-risk youth and adults who would like to start and run their own business. The program would offer a two-year curriculum to its attendees to assist with life-skills, self-sufficiency and garnering the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

With new ideas coming in every day, we’d like to ask those in NAACP’s community to consider the ways health can be improved for young African American males. NAACP’s national impact is already working to address the social and environmental factors that affect health and wellness for these young men. What ideas would you add?

Visit to learn more and share your idea (or current program). If you have questions or other thoughts, join me on Twitter (#ForwardPromise) or on the Forward Promise Forum.

Maisha Simmons is a RWJF program associate and oversees the Forward Promise initiative.