Oakland hires coordinator for programs aiding young men of color
By Mark Hedin
East Bay Times
27 January 2017
Photo courtesy Bay Area News Group
In an effort to continue work on former President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, Mayor Libby Schaaf has hired College of Environmental Design alumnus and lecturer Ricardo Huerta Niño (M.C.P. ‘09, PhD City & Regional Planning ‘13) as the city’s first director of collective impact.
My Brother’s Keeper “is President Obama’s legacy project,” Huerta Niño said on the last full day of the 44th president’s tenure. The program is directed at young men of color, intended to ease their path through school into the workforce and keep them clear of the criminal justice system. Oakland has been a pilot city for the program, which will continue as a nonprofit organization. It is already at work in 200 cities.
Huerta Niño has his work cut out for him, since Oakland currently has a high school graduation rate of 67 percent. Only 34 percent of Latino students in second through fifth grades read at grade level, compared with 85 percent of white students, according to a preliminary report from the Oakland My Brother’s Keeper. And only 47 percent of Asian youth entering schools have early literacy skills, whereas 75 percent of white students do. Although African-American students make up 27 percent of the enrollment in Oakland, 40 percent of them are in special education, the report continued.
To a great extent, Huerta Niño’s work will be to bring together efforts already underway to better help Oakland’s children on the path to success. He explains, “We are really just building on the longstanding and nationally recognized work of Oakland organizations and agencies. They really need to get more credit and appreciation for the thousands of youth they are helping to stay on a healthy and positive path, and for all that means in terms of the impact on the families, neighborhoods and the city.”
Huerta Niño cited programs such as the school district’s African American Male Achievement Initiative, the Youth Ventures joint powers authority, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice and Youth Uprising.
Oakland is one of just six cities in the country chosen for Harvard Graduate School of Education’s By All Means project, which targets eliminating links between children’s socioeconomic status and achievement, Huerta Niño said. Harvard mentioned Schaaf’s Oakland Promise program, intended to triple in 10 years the number of Oakland students graduating from college, as a motivating factor in choosing the city for its work.
Oakland Promise has drawn $25 million in donations for programs such as tuition funds for high school students who cannot afford to go and college savings accounts for kindergartners.
“We are fortunate to have the leadership of a range of nationally recognized nonprofit organizations, progressive philanthropic foundations and elected officials, all of which offer Oakland the opportunity to be more effective in our work,” Huerta Niño said.
Huerta Niño will be targeting six areas: school readiness, attaining reading skills, graduating high school, attending college, landing jobs and finding a way back into Huerta Niño also will be accumulating “top-notch” data. “If you feed it back to the school you can have a real impact, right away,” he said.