Aiming to help young men of color heal, Forward Promise opens office at Penn


A program that focuses on promoting a culture of health for middle- and high-school-aged boys and young men of color is opening a national office at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where the initiative began, has invested $12 million in the Forward Promise venture.

Young men of color experience trauma in unique ways because of historical oppression and current-day discrimination, said Howard Stevenson, the Penn professor leading the new national office.

“You could argue even centuries of oppression are still important in how boys and young men of color and their families move, have social mobility, have financial equity or are given the sort of opportunities that most young people are afforded,” he said.

Jerry Tello, from The National Compadres Network in Los Angeles, came to the launch of the initiative to speak as an elder man of color.

He spoke of the deep wisdom and medicine that already exist in native cultures, and the healing power of tears.

“You know, when we tell boys not to cry, not to feel, to step up, that’s the colonization, that’s the oppression, and that’s the sense of indoctrinating a disconnectedness within somebody’s own spirit,” he explained.

Young people need a place where they can go to get the healing they need, Tello said, so those inner wounds don’t turn physical. Researchers believe that childhood traumas can put someone at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health problems later in life.

The new office will engage with groups working on issues including imprisonment and unfair arrests; workforce re-entry; and the school to prison pipeline.

The office is interested in offering grants and technical assistance to community agencies and organizations that create villages, Stevenson said.

“And we think of villages as an ecosystem of loving, supportive, protective and accountable relationships,” he said. “And the consistency of those relationships is important in the health of boys and young men of color.”

The program will be issuing a request for proposals in the next month.