Forward Promise Announces New Grants to Disrupt the Dehumanization of Boys and Young Men of Color

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Lowell Dempsey


Seven community-based organizations receive funding to improve the health and well-being of young men of color.


(PHILADELPHIA – November 7, 2019) Forward Promise, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, today announced $1 million in grants to help seven organizations across the country working to improve the health and well-being of boys and young men of color.

These grants support partnerships between community-based organizations and a local system serving young people, such as juvenile justice, child welfare, or health. The partnerships will address a range of issues from disrupting dehumanization in the Seattle education system, to reshaping behavioral and mental health supports in Chicago, to increasing opportunities for success among youth in the juvenile justice system in New Orleans.

Collectively, the grantees will identify current practices that harm and dehumanize boys and young men of color, and lift up solutions that are more humane, culturally grounded, and consistent with promoting positive youth development.

“Dehumanization is an ugly part of our nation’s history, and its effects are still present today,” said Rhonda Bryant, Ed.D., co-director of Forward Promise. “Historical narratives that paint boys and young men of color as objects of fear have led to more punitive punishments in the justice system, harsher family sanctions in child welfare, uneven school discipline policies, and insufficient access to physical and mental health care services. The result is youth and families are distrustful of the systems and institutions that are supposed to help them.”

One of the primary goals of this grantmaking initiative is to spotlight concrete examples of communities and systems working together to address dehumanization, says Howard Stevenson Ph.D., co-director of Forward Promise, based at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

“Community-based organizations are uniquely positioned to help systems understand and reduce the impact of trauma on boys and young men of color,” said Stevenson. “We hope that communities and system leaders across the country would see the power of these kinds of partnerships, and how they help create fair and just opportunities for young men to grow up healthy and reach their fullest potential.”

Since launching in 2017, Forward Promise has provided over $4 million in support to community-based organizations in 13 cities as a part of its ongoing commitment to empowering boys and young men of color. RWJF senior adviser Dwayne Proctor, Ph.D., said that these grants are an important part of building a national Culture of Health.

“We know that if we want to achieve health equity, we’ll have to implement changes to the systems that influence where young men of color live, learn, work, and play,” said Proctor. “These partnerships can do more than just help a handful of youth. By addressing systems change, they have a chance to improve the health of young men, their families, and their communities for generations to come.”

The following seven organizations will receive $150,000 grants as part of the Forward Promise: Partnering with Systems to Disrupt Dehumanization initiative:

  • Asian Counseling and Referral Service (Seattle, Washington) will partner with the South East Seattle Education Coalition. This partnership will facilitate the dissemination and implementation of recommendations put forward by ACRS’s youth advisory board on disrupting dehumanization in the Seattle education system.
  • California Youth Connection (Oakland, California) will partner with the California Department of Social Services. Together they will implement short-term, high impact strategies to improve the experiences of boys and young men of color currently in foster care.
  • Communities United  (Chicago, Illinois) will partner with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago on Rethinking Safety, a campaign that uses the voices and lived experiences of boys and young men of color to inform the programs and policies of the broader Illinois mental and behavioral health system.
  • Deep Center (Savannah, Georgia) will partner with the Savannah Chatham County Public School System and the Chatham County Juvenile County. The group will create a model to train adult stakeholders in healing-centered responses for young men of color and nurture the next generation of social justice leaders in Savannah.
  • Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (New Orleans, Louisiana) will partner with the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice to offer 10 boys and young men of color serving “juvenile life” increased opportunity for success through mentorship, individualized youth-driven goal setting, and community support, incentivizing their participation by providing the opportunity for furloughs.
  • RYSE, Inc. (Richmond, California) will partner with Contra Costa County Health Services to design and implement Health Home, a project that would engage local youth to reimagine systems that heal rather than harm and that center liberation for boys and young men of color as a collective vision for a healthy community.
  • UTEC, Inc. (Lowell, Massachusetts) will expand its partnership with local correctional and probation agencies to support activities that would lead to a cultural shift in how correctional facilities and probation offices approach working with boys and young men of color who are criminally involved.


About Forward Promise

Forward Promise is a national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support culturally-responsive practices that buffer the effects of historical and systemic trauma on boys and young men of color. For more information, visit Follow Forward Promise on Twitter at or on Facebook at

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at