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MPs debate plight of young black males

The plight of Bermuda’s young black males was debated at length by politicians in the House of Assembly yesterday.The debate came during a motion on Government’s efforts to implement the recommendations of the Mincy Report.The report, handed to Government in 2009 by Columbia University Professor Ronald Mincy, revealed more than half of young black males drop out of high school early.It had the full title ‘A Study of Employment, Earnings and Educational Attainment Gaps Between Young Black and White Men in Bermuda’, and was designed to look at possible factors behind social issues plaguing the Island.Professor Mincy mooted the idea that a lack of ‘soft skills’ such as punctuality and listening to authority could be preventing black Bermudian males from finishing high school and furthering their education.He also suggested a lack of knowledge about employment options and suspicions of a glass ceiling in the higher paying industries such as finance, may be limiting their professional aspirations.Kicking off the debate yesterday morning, Minister without Portfolio Michael Weeks detailed Jobs Corps, a training and vocational programme for young people in the United States which is currently being adapted for Bermuda.Mr Weeks told the House of Assembly the scheme would help plug the much-maligned gap left by the closure of Bermuda Technical Institute and address concerns at Profession Mincy’s finding that more than half of black males drop out of school early (see main story on Page 1.)However, the next speaker, Shawn Crockwell of the One Bermuda Alliance said he did not hear Mr Weeks talk about measures taken, just initiatives Government wants to proceed with.He inquired what measures have been taken since the Mincy report was provided to the Government.“I do not doubt the Minister’s and this Government’s sincerity in addressing this problem,” he said.However, he suggested Mr Weeks had said “in an apologetic tone” that not much has been done since Government received the report in 2009.Mr Crockwell said the key focus of the report was fixing education, but he questioned what has been done about that.He said that in 2009, Government pledged to enhance the role of school guidance counsellors but the number of counsellors has actually decreased since then.He also pointed out that Government mooted a one-stop career centre in the Throne Speech in 2008 but he has not seen this implemented yet.He said educational initiatives such as the Education Centre, Care Learning Centre, Alternatives to Incarceration and Drug Court have been touted as solutions.However, he said if they are not properly funded and supported, the opportunities are wasted.Minister of Health Zane DeSilva told Mr Crockwell that if he had listened to Mr Weeks, he would have noted he talked about several measures that have already been taken by Government.He suggested Mr Crockwell should ask Mr Weeks for a copy of his speech.Mr Crockwell repeated again that “the remedy is to fix education”. But, he said: “Government seems unwilling or unable to fix the main problem, which is fixing education.”United Bermuda Party Leader Kim Swan said it is important to hear things “from the horse’s mouth” when it comes to the plight of young black males.“The horse’s mouth, however disenfranchised in this country, needs a champion,” he said.”He later pledged: “I will do all I can to make the playing field level.”He said he liked the idea of a the new Job Corps programme, and suggested perhaps this is an opportunity for the private sector to partner with Government on it. He also spoke to the need for technical education.Attorney General Michael Scott said if young people are reluctant to go into education because they know there are barriers preventing them from entering enhanced careers, then the focus must not be on just education alone.Mr Scott called for “a clear, independent audit of services” and said: “We will find out which services are working, and will remove those that are not, and take away the clutter.”He added: “Before we rush, we have to be sure that our clients are re-engaged. That requires their attention to be focused on our programmes, such as Job Corps.”Opposition Leader John Barritt told the House: “The future of our country is at stake, when we see how behaviour manifests in such anti-social ways. These are not encouraging times. The challenge is how to develop a national consensus.”Mr Barritt praised the Job Corps programme but said the Opposition was in the dark about it: “It sounds like a good programme, like it might work,” he said. “What we have to do is find out what works.” He said that what the Opposition found missing was “qualitative, quantitative studies” that showed which programmes worked best.Youth Minister Glenn Blakeney remarked that Government was engaged in doing just that.Mr Barritt called for “pragmatic policies and “pragmatic policy-making”.He also remarked that the Mincy Report showed 70 percent of a group of high-school drop-outs came from single parent homes.Mr Blakeney said two critical areas were spirituality, and “the responsibility of that critical mass in society to step up to the plate.“At the end of the day, we can implement all kinds of programmes, but we’ll only be as effective as those you get going to them.”Mr Blakeney said that distractions were more numerous today, and that parents were being demanded to provide their children will cellular phones and PlayStations. Children expected instant gratification, he said.Government continues to commission reports, “but the most important thing is that the community at large, all stakeholders, buy in and tie in,” Mr Blakeney said.Shadow Families Minister Donte Hunt addressed the Mincy Report’s findings on the impact of family circumstances: “Show me who your parents are, and I can tell you who you are, and you may become,” Mr Hunt said.Parents are equally in need of education as young people, he went on.“There is a great challenge for single parents, especially when the father is not involved.”Mr Hunt pointed out that the Mincy Report “never mentions single fathers”.“We have a single mother epidemic in Bermuda that we need to correct a pandemic. Not only do we have many single mothers who have a hard time with the anti-social behaviour of their boys, but we have a lot of single mothers having a lot of children.”Government MP Marc Bean said he wanted to speak for the first time in three weeks in the House.He said he had not read the entire Mincy Report, but paid close attention to its summary and recommendations.“I am a young black man; I don’t need too much quantitative data and a degree to understand the predicament of myself and other young black men in our community,” he said.Poverty and ignorance were the greatest evils influencing mankind, he continued.In a speech that twice quoted Haile Selassie I, Mr Bean called for education that fed the intellect.“Education is not meant for you to get and secure a job,” he said. “A young person without their life’s purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” As the father of a 14-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son, Mr Bean said parents had to guide their children.He called for a speeding up of the reform, “the revolution or change”, of our educational system.Mr Bean added that public schools today followed the North American educational model, while private schools leaned more to the UK system. “The US and Canadian system puts emphasis on multiple-choice questions. The UK requires you to write out your answer.”He said: “Multiple choice exams do not induce reasoning power.”Mr Bean also said that when young people were taught that slavery was their history, they developed a “victim mentality”. He called for a history emphasising the great achievements of African cultures before slavery.He said the school system should includes academies for the performing arts and sports, as well as a technical institute.Mr Bean said he did not support workforce equity legislation: “I see it as a short-term solution with long-term consequences.”It is not the right of any government to “intervene in the workplace through what could be seen as force”.The Warwick South Central MP said this also reinforced a victim mentality.Deputy Speaker Randy Horton, a former educator and former Education Minister, said traditional expectations about “being a man” stunts boys emotionally and in their relationships.He said it is a worldwide issue but is a particular problem in Bermuda with young black males.He said he learned during his time on the Joint Select Committee probing violent crime that “developing empathy in boys is the best antidote to violence.”Mr Horton added: “The biggest of men should be able to shed a tear when it is necessary.”He went on to say it is important to remember that boys learn differently to girls.“When we talk about education we have to talk about boys’ education and what is important for boys,” he said.Mr Horton also spoke of the importance of sport and scholarships for athletes.One Bermuda Alliance MP Louise Jackson ran a performing arts school for almost 50 years and also worked as a teacher.She praised Mr Horton for his speech and said she agreed with all he said. Mrs Jackson urged Government to heed the importance of extra-curricular activities and after-school programmes as “a lot of these boys get into trouble after school. They are not going to do their homework and they just run wild.”She said while some schools have excellent extra-curricular activities, others have none, and Bermuda has few youth centres.Mrs Jackson urged all teachers in Bermuda to each set up an after-school club to “give these kids something to do”.She echoed the words of her party colleague Shawn Crockwell by bemoaning the fact there are 38 school counsellors now compared to 40 when Government first received the Mincy report.“We don’t need to be cutting counsellors.” She then cited figures that there is one counsellor for every 35 students in the private schools but one for every 200 children in the public schools.Minister for Government Estates and Public Information Services Neletha Butterfield also has a background in teaching. Like other politicians during the debate, she said alarm bells have been sounding in various reports for years, as far back as the Pitt Report in 1977.“This Government has been called to action and we are taking action,” she said.Ms Butterfield, who taught in prisons for 20 years of her career, said Bermuda has the “highest recidivism” rate which needs to be addressed.She said it is important to follow up with those recently released from incarceration. She added that if no counselling is available in tandem with educational initiatives, there will be problems.She also bemoaned the fact that, at her Care Learning Centre, she is now teaching the sons and grandsons of her original students.She pointed out that a lot of people even with strong family support, mess up their lives “through choice”. She also spoke of students who are so ill-equipped for learning that they turn up at her school without paper to write on or a bag to carry their books.Environment Minister Walter Roban said he is confident the Job Corps programme is going to play a “major role” in dealing with the issue of young men. However, he said Government is going to need help from the wider business community.l The report of this debate will be continued in tomorrow’s Royal Gazette.