By Robert Cyr
Iran Nazario was nine years old when he watched his father stab his stepmother four times. Child welfare workers moved him from New York to his mother’s house in Connecticut. She used drugs and was rarely around. He was soon moved to a foster home and then, at the age of 12, lived on the streets.
Nazario said his life changed the day a teacher asked him why he wore the same clothes every day. “Can you imagine what that meant to me?” he said. “I had never gotten that from my dad or my mom. It planted the seed of hope that someone was paying attention.”
That was the overwhelming message of the recently held Black and Hispanic/Latino Male Statewide Forum. Teachers and educators can have a big impact on the lives of minority children – something often overlooked in a profession that can largely lack either Black or Latino educators
Nazario, now 42, is a father and program director for Compass Peace Builders, a child advocacy group. He was one of several speakers from state agencies at Central Connecticut State University’s 2012 Black and Hispanic/Latino Male Statewide Forum, hosted by the State Education Resource Center.
Terrlyn Curry-Avery, a psychologist for Sacred Intelligence LLC in New London sees Black and Latino young men fighting an uphill battle that most teachers and students aren’t aware of and can’t relate to. Educators and administrators are steeped in centuries-old notions of racism and fear that often blinds them to the needs of at-risk students, she said.
“Until we start to recognize and understand the ethnic and cultural differences of our students, we are not going to be able to reach them the way that we need to,” she said.
Nozario, who was a gang member that spent time in jail before turning his life around, said Black and Latino students are often facing horrible conditions at home that many of their peers are not. And after everything else, he said, they’re still just kids.
“Kids between the ages of 13 and 18 want your help the least but it’s when they need it the most,” he said.
Nozario’s presentation to a group of about 100 state teachers, administrators and child advocates comes at a time when young Black and Latino males are going to jail and dropping out of school at greater rates than other ethnic or racial groups.
Data from the state Department of Education shows a 58 percent graduation rate for Latinos, 66 percent for blacks and 87 percent for whites. The state’s overall rate is about 80 percent.
According to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Corrections, there are 6,886 Blacks, 5,298 White and 4,299 Hispanic prisoners. Nationally, in state prisons and local jails, Hispanics are jailed at almost double the rate of whites. That rate is seven times higher in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and six times higher in Massachusetts and North Dakota.
According to a 2007 report from Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project study, Hispanics comprised 20 percent of the state and federal prison population in 2005, a rise of 43 percent since 1990.
“As a result of these trends, one of every six Hispanic males and one of every 45 Hispanic females born today can expect to go to prison in his or her lifetime. These rates are more than double those for non-Hispanic whites,” according to the report.