The Life

A Q&A with Arnold Chandler

Can you tell us about the Life Course Framework, and why is it important to use as the foundation for CFBMoC’s work and strategy?

The Life Course Framework is a way to organize a variety of complex factors that shape the outcomes we care about for boys and men of color. It considers how things that occur early in a person’s life shape their outcomes later on, and how everything—whether it be what’s on the inside of an individual to their environment—is interconnected. Rather than focusing on one issue—education, criminal justice or youth development—it guided CFBMoC to focus on a population, and what can be done now to impact people ten years down the road. For example, we can’t focus only on early childhood education [in isolation] and wait 20 years for a positive outcome. If we are thinking through a Life Course Framework, we can think about a multitude of factors and issues that should be prioritized to achieve the outcomes we want.

What do people find most surprising or powerful about the Life Course Framework?

That the issues that boys and men of color are faced with aren’t siloed. Education is not just an education issue—it also shapes the probability of someone going to prison or getting a good job. We cannot just look at outcomes for a specific issue because that becomes very limiting. We must look at how all the dots connect to each other and bridge across silos to understand how one outcome affects another.

How do we get boys and men of color not just through college but through college healthy and supported?

Getting through college doesn’t begin with entering college. Even in middle school, there is a trajectory being formed. We must provide young people of color with the supports they need to actualize their potential, and know that they have the capability to do the things they want. Many of those beliefs form in middle school and in adolescence, a time that is also rife with pressures and so many complexities of that age. Institutions need to deliberately and intentionally engage in practices that help kids of color feel affimed and a sense of belonging, and not withdraw, disgengage and disidentify with educational challenges.

What is your vision for boys and men of color?

My ultimate vision is to reduce mass incarceration through policy change and, instead of sending folks into the criminal justice system, send them on a path to obtain higher education. To do that, we need to address skills and socio-emotional development gaps. The problem is we’ve looked at trying to remedy skill deficits but haven’t adequately looked at how kids of color make meaning of themselves in their environments and what that portends for their outcomes. Unconscious beliefs like “I am not the type of person that does well in school” are inculcated in young males of color starting at a young age and becomes damaging and demotivating as they move into adolescence. The meaning that they hold of themselves is undermining their latent ability and potential for excellence. Yet, we often don’t confront this issue directly and instead only focus on getting kids into a better tutoring math program, for example. Philanthropy, practitioners and governments need to add “meaning-based interventions” to those we deploy focused on improving cognitive or socioemotional skills because meaning is so central to motivation. We’ve confronted the problem of a deficit-based approach to youth development in the field, but haven’t adequately addressed the deficit-perspective that lurks in the unconscious thinking of young males of color about themselves.

Learn more about Arnold’s work and the Life Course Framework: