A Message from AYPF’s Executive Director

The Value of Black Lives

I am not ok. As a leader, I know I am supposed to have words of wisdom, some balm that would soothe the pain, frustration, and anger felt by my team at the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), and so many of you. The only words that come to mind are Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag on social media. Black Lives Matter is a call to action.

I share the grief many feel at the loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. I struggle to understand why no-knock warrants and a knee in the neck remain acceptable policing practices when death is a known result in too many prior cases. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Black men and women cannot feel safe in their own homes. My heart aches for Black children and youth who are witnessing the attacks against other Black people. I hate that their childhoods are littered with intimate experiences of racism, grief, and indifference.

As an advocate for underserved children and youth, I have had many sleepless nights wondering what I can do to stop the hatred directed toward them. What can AYPF do to protect Black children and youth from more harm? How can we disrupt and transform racist systems? Can we incentivize leaders and systems to nurture young people and invest in their futures?

One small measure of justice I can support is to ensure that every Black child receives a quality learning experience that positions him or her for a full and productive life. To do so, AYPF will challenge ourselves and you, our colleagues and friends, to examine policies, systems, and structures that fail too many Black children and youth. We must have the courage and resolve that not one more Black girl or boy will fall through the cracks of the systems we touch and lead. To that end, AYPF will ask hard questions to surface actionable solutions and shine a bright light on how we can all hold ourselves accountable to ensuring the success of all Black children and youth. To succeed, we must have the courage to:

  • Ask ourselves why Black K-12 students are 3.2 times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school and hold ourselves accountable for changing school disciplinary policies and reducing this number.
  • Hold ourselves accountable for creating a nurturing and culturally competent school climate that values Black students and all they add to the school community.
  • Confront and change the reality that Black students are less likely than their white peers to enroll in and complete college and hold our education systems accountable for taking concrete steps to ensure students’ post-secondary success.
  • Ask why Black undergraduates are the least likely to enroll in and complete an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in the lucrative STEM fields and press for policies, practices, and cross-sector partnerships that are shown to increase their representation.
  • Advocate vigorously for student loan reform to prevent Black undergraduates from the burden of crushing student loan debt, higher than any other group, that hinders their economic security well after graduation.
  • Listen to Black students and families and provide them what they need to be successful at our institutions or organizations.
  • Hire Black graduates and pay them the same salaries paid to their white peers with the same degrees.
  • Acknowledge that we will never achieve the full promise of America as long as we fail to address the gross inequalities that continue to limit opportunities for Black children and youth.

We must not waste this opportunity to be a part of the sea change needed in the education sector and our country. It starts with individual action. Take this time to reflect on your biases and learn how to be an effective ally for Black children and youth. If you are a White person, study these anti-racism resources. If you are a Black person struggling to cope, practice self-care, and find a licensed therapist at Therapy for Black GirlsTherapy for Black Men, or The Steve Fund’s Crisis Text Line.

AYPF will center Black children, youth, and young adults as a priority in the development of policies and system transformation efforts. We value their lived expertise and agency. We will demand more of ourselves and more of you as we seek to transform systems and improve outcomes.

What will you do to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter to you and your institution or organization? Participate in AYPF’s equity learning journey. And have the courage every day to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter to you.

With hope and humility,

Stephanie McGencey
Executive Director