When Liberty Hill launched the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition in 2011, in partnership with The California Endowment and 12 grassroots community groups, there was a problem we could not ignore: L.A.’s boys and young men of color were in crisis.
For too many, school was a pathway to prison and not college. Graduation rates for our young men of color were significantly lower than their white counterparts. Unemployment was high and life expectancy was low.
If this was the reality for our young people growing up, what could we expect for their futures—and the futures of their communities? Los Angeles needed its young men. All of them.
Fast-forward six years and the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition has national recognition with a proven track record of change. Brothers, Sons, Selves led successful campaigns to pass landmark legislation like LAUSD’s School Climate Bill of Rights, a policy that implemented a ban on suspensions for the racially charged catchall known as “willful defiance.” This led to a 53% drop in suspensions over a two-year period, mostly affecting Black and Latino students. Brothers, Sons, Selves campaigns tackled unjust school discipline policies in Long Beach, convinced LAUSD and the L.A. City Council to officially endorse Prop. 47 and increased funding for restorative justice. President Obama even visited the members of Brothers, Sons, Selves to thank them for their work and its influence on his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
In many ways, the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition represents what Liberty Hill does best: convening community groups, working both inside and outside of governing bodies and supporting grassroots organizing to push effective policy change. At Liberty Hill we believe those impacted by injustice should lead fights for change, which is why Brothers, Sons, Selves has always been a youth-led initiative. Brothers, Sons, Selves lets boys and young men of color advocate for their own futures, as they plan demonstrations, address elected officials and run campaigns.
After Liberty Hill’s six-year incubation of Brothers, Sons, Selves, the coalition is ready for its next phase. Liberty Hill is now stepping back from our role as the convener of Brothers, Sons, Selves so that our partners in the initiative can guide the youth-led effort forward.
We will continue to support the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition, and the member organizations, to achieve their ambitious youth justice goals. Currently, Brothers, Sons, Selves is leading a push to pass SB 607, a bill that would ban suspensions for willful defiance in schools throughout California. Graduation rates for young men of color have improved since LAUSD implemented the ban, while suspensions and time away from the classroom have plummeted. In many cases, suspension leads to a student’s first experience with the criminal justice system, drastically reducing their chances for a healthy outcome. For the future generations of Californians, this law could be life changing. On behalf of every young person in a cell instead of a classroom, every minor denied basic human dignity and every child met with criminalization instead of compassion, we ask you to stand with us.
For Liberty Hill, the success of Brothers, Sons, Selves has been an impetus to continue fighting for youth justice and ensure that we dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in all its forms. Our next goal is to end youth incarceration as we know it in Los Angeles, in order to give our young people a second chance to lead healthy and productive lives. It won’t be easy, but we know it is possible. The injustices are too great to ignore—and the momentum to change them is building.
We will tackle this next challenge with the same innovation and commitment to change that powered the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition’s success. We will invest in smart organizing, create partnerships that give community leaders political muscle and ensure that those directly experiencing injustice are leading the fight.
The young men who started this Brothers, Sons, Selves journey with us leave behind an incredible legacy of change for all other students who come behind them in Los Angeles and, hopefully soon, all of California. Once again, Los Angeles is demonstrating how to lead with justice and opportunity. From this perspective, the future looks bright.
Shane Murphy Goldsmith
President and CEO, Liberty Hill Foundation