Interviews & Speeches
George Soros Remarks Announcing Donation to Young Men’s Initiative
Good Morning. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg. I am delighted to be here today for the launch of New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative. The Mayor has shown vision and leadership with this Initiative and that is why I am happy to join forces with him.
Over the next three years, my Open Society Foundations plan to contribute $30 million to this effort. I hope that others will join us, making it even more significant.
As you have heard, theYoung Men’s Initiative is a sorely needed and comprehensive program that aims to transform the lives of New York’s most vulnerable children. This will help make our city a stronger and better place and set an example for the rest of the country.
My Open Society Foundation has long recognized the systemic injustices that young men of color face. We have established a Campaign for Black Male Achievement to invest in education, employment and efforts to strengthen families for young men of color. I am happy to see David Banks here- the Campaign has been a major supporter of his Eagle Academy.
In partnership with the city and Bloomberg Philanthropies, our contribution will focus on increasing the number of Black and Hispanic males who graduate from high school, go to college and get jobs. Our funding will also encourage responsible fatherhood by creating education and employment opportunities for young fathers. In addition, by increasing literacy among young adults on probation, we hope to scale back recidivism. Reducing incarceration - which disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic males - has long been at the core of our work in the United States.
The challenges society faces in this area are immense. In New York City, only about half of African American males finish high school. They are seven times more likely to have an incarcerated parent. The poverty rate for Black and Latino young men is 50 percent higher than for their White and Asian counterparts. Their rate of unemployment is 60 percent higher. And more than one third of African American males end up in the criminal justice system. These children and young men need not only rigorous academic programs to hold their interest and improve their academic performance but they also need internships, after-school programs, mentors and guidance that can connect and prepare them for college and satisfying work after high school.
These statistics I have just recited are appalling. The picture they paint is inconsistent with the kind of society we aspire to be. But I know from practical experience that it is possible to make meaningful improvements in this state of affairs. My foundation has been working on these issues for many years, particularly in Baltimore, where I established a local foundation in 1998.
On a visit there I was shocked to discover the so-called “school to prison pipeline”. Many of the children in the juvenile justice system ended up there because they were suspended or expelled. Their schools were eager to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind. The incentives ought to work the other way. It is a measure of failure when a child is expelled and winds up entangled in the criminal justice system - not a measure of success for a school that seeks to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind.
For a long time I was skeptical of our ability to have an impact. But after a while the results began to show up in the statistics. In Baltimore, it is the African American boys who are showing the greatest improvement in high school - they are the ones responsible for increased graduation rates for the district. I decided it was worth continuing the effort indefinitely on condition that my contribution was matched by other donors. The local support made the effort even more successful and now the citizens of Baltimore are actively engaged and they have a foundation they can call their own.
In Baltimore we learned how important it is to work with the school authorities rather than simply creating private enclaves of excellence. We also learned that an independent advisory board is a key to success and I am pleased that the New York Young Men’s Initiative is in the process of assembling a distinguished group of experts to constitute an independent advisory board. The Mayor’s initiative shows how private citizens can work with government to make it better.
Encouraged by our success in Baltimore, and the promise held out by this initiative, I intend to make a city-based approach a cornerstone of my philanthropy in the United States. We will look to forge similar public- partnerships around the country.