Our Black boys aren’t served by the education system. Period. So many of them are sent right into the correctional industry. But that could be changing thanks to the work of organizations like 8 Million Stories. I recently spoke with Marvin Pierre, the program director of 8 Million Stories, about how to end the school-to-prison pipeline, empowering youth of color and more.
How was 8 Million Stories born?
Our founder, Ms. Vanessa Ramirez, was visiting a local district alternative education program and while conversing with the youth there she uncovered that many of them faced barriers to re-enrolling in their community schools after spending an extended amount of time in a juvenile detention facility. As a result of not being able to return to school and not having employment opportunities, many of these youth ended up back in the system within a span of three months.
What motivates you to do the work of dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline?
I am passionate about closing the achievement and opportunity gaps for boys of color in this country, by any means necessary. The high school graduation rate is at an all-time low for young men of color. This leads to a low percentage of boys matriculating and graduating from college and a high percentage sentenced to prison.
As an African-American man, this reality is heartbreaking and scary to say the least. Our country is in need of courageous individuals to take an aggressive approach to ensuring that we don’t lose anymore generations of African-American and Latino males, and I have willingly volunteered to join this fight.
For young men of color and our nation to win this fight, we need to level the playing field for them, with quality resources and student-focused learning approaches to ensure their success. We are losing our boys of color, and I’m determined to find a sustainable solution to solving this national crisis.
Why do you think these trends exist?
The trend of the school-to-prison pipeline exists because of many factors within in our school system—over-policing in our schools, increasing reliance on school safety offices to manage student behavior and enforcing zero-tolerance policies and reduction in social services. We are allocating more funding to policing instead of counselors. In Houston, there is only one counselor for every 400 students. Our school districts are intentionally finding more ways to keep the most vulnerable youth out of school.
What’s 8 Million Stories’ vision and where do you see it in the next five years?
Our vision is to systematically disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. I see our program expanding to several cities across this U.S. We will also create partnerships with school districts to work with justice involved youth and ensure that all of our students have an equal opportunity to be successful.
What success stories have you seen as a result of 8 Million Stories’ work?
In the first year of our program, we saw 71 percent obtain employment through our program, we saw 25 of the 53 youth we enrolled graduate with a GED, we saw 100 percent of our students complete the program with one to three nationally recognized trades. In terms of recidivism, we’ve only have one graduate go back into the criminal justice system.