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Why We Must Confront Race Unapologetically

April 28, 2020
K. Ricky Watson, Jr.

Twice a month, NJJN’s national staff gathers to discuss racial justice topics as part of our commitment to anti-racist youth justice advocacy. These conversations examine the historical, psychological and current dynamics of race in the United States. We use these conversations as opportunities to learn, grow and deepen our ability to show up authentically as anti-racist youth justice advocates.

We recently held a discussion about an Opportunity Insights study, which found deep disparities in the economic outcomes of black and white boys over time. You may have heard about this study back in 2018, as it made rounds through national media. The study took to task the persistent myth of American meritocracy— the idea that if we start at the same line, we have an equal chance to win the race. The unfortunate truth about the American race, however, is that even when young black boys start with the same advantages of accumulated wealth, upper levels of family household income, higher parental educational attainment and desirable neighborhood - they still have a higher likelihood of ending up living in poverty. Much higher.

The bottom line is something that many of us have known: when all things are equal - race still matters. Beyond the economic and educational indicators that should provide a way into sustained upward mobility, for black youth - particularly boys - race is the everlasting loophole that allows true equality to escape our country’s grasp. To close the gap, we must no longer rely on periphery examinations of race- but rather tackle it head on, no matter how uncomfortable.

Until we do, we will see racial injustice replay itself over and over. Today, we bear witness to the devastation of COVID-19 on black and brown communities bearing the brunt of loss. Even as we fight to decarcerate youth correctional facilities, we know the communities already reeling from COVID-19 are those disproportionately impacted by the youth justice system.

I invite all of our organizational members, allies and YJLI alum and fellows to read this study and hold discussions of your own. I’m also including the discussion prompts we regularly use during our conversations. Our ability to understand and truly operate as anti-racist advocates externally relies on our willingness to engage in discussions internally that push our understanding of race equity.




●       Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys, NY Times, March 19, 2018.

●       Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States, Executive Summary, Equality of Opportunity Project, 2018

●       5 Key Takeaways From That New Report on the Wealth of Black Men, Colorlines, March 19, 2018

●       Racism’s Punishing Reach, The Daily Podcast, New York Times


Discussion Questions:

●       What was your first thought after reading the study’s findings?

●       Was anything you read new to you?

●       Did you read anything that you agree or disagree with?

●       Do you think anything needs further explanation?

●       How can we apply what we learned today to improve our work?

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