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Christopher Goosby is 17 years old. If he were like many teenagers, getting out of bed on a Saturday morning would be unthinkable barring a natural disaster.

Nevertheless, he pulled himself awake—early, quickly freshened up, peered into his closet and scanned the contents. Where he was going, appearance mattered. After mulling the pros and cons of each combination, he emerged from his room wearing a blue necktie, white button-down shirt, and dark, loose-fitting slacks. His leather shoes—dotted with scuff marks from being worn repeatedly to church, school dances, and award ceremonies—were narrow and pointed at the toe, nothing like the bulky exterior of his dilapidated football cleats at home, collecting dust.

Last November, he played his final game of prep-school ball—it was the first of many “lasts” he will experience throughout the course of his senior year in high school, which is nearing a close.

When autumn arrives, he aspires to play strong safety in college, but in the meantime, there’s prom, senior pranks, and of course, graduation.

If he were like many other young men from South Central Los Angeles, Goosby would presumably be on the fastrack to social and economic destruction. But he’s not a regular teen—he’s exceptional and he’s already been accepted to four colleges.

“Right now I’m weighing my options, but my choices are Humboldt State [University], Morehouse, Pacific University of Oregon and San Diego State,” he explained proudly.

On that Saturday (April 1, 2017), Goosby caught a rapid shuttle to Helen Berstein Senior High School in Hollywood. There, he joined more than 300 African American and Latino students for the fourth annual Young Men of Color “I Rise” Leadership Conference.

This gathering is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) “Village Movement Mentoring Program,” designed to help at-risk students acquire the tools they need to lead-balanced, productive lives. The conference is composed of workshops, mentoring sessions and group exercises. Each workshop focused on a specific topic, ranging from opening and maintaining a business, to preparing for college, to interacting with law enforcement.

The day’s events included a heartfelt speech from L.A. Unified School Police Chief Steven Zipperman. He and a group of officers were in attendance to connect with the students and promote the benefits of launching a career in crime prevention.

“We have to do a better job of building positive relationships with the students,” he confessed to the audience. “We want to be part of the community. We want to help. Contrary to what you read in the papers, we don’t look at civilians like it’s us versus them. We certainly don’t see you [the students] that way. Our job is to make sure that you’re provided with a safe environment to learn and grow.”

He added during a one-on-one interview, “We need to engage each and every student in conversation to let them know that we care and that we’re not the enemy. We need to talk to them about life, how they’re doing in school, and we need to ask them how we can help them clear these hurdles so they can be successful in class and in life.”

Over the past decade, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of police that patrol public shools—especially those where the student population is primarily composed of minorities. A 2015 report by the African American Policy Forum estimates that 17,000 officers were stationed on campuses throughout the country in 2009, and there is usually more police supervision at schools that have more Black students than White. These conditions are highly problematic for African Americans, who are more likely to be singled out for arrest.

“When a young person has a bad experience with a police officer, it needs to be resolved before that student grows animosity toward police in general,” explained Zipperman. “We [officers] need to own up our mistakes and make an effort not to repeat them. But civilians must understand that sometimes we take actions that will be for the benefit of the greater good. It may not always result favorably for everyone involved, but our job is to protect the community, and we risk our lives to achieve that goal.

“Our police force is made up of people from the community. I think we’re leaps and bounds above other cities in terms of how much time we’ve devoted to building strong ties with the neighborhoods that we serve. That’s why we’ve joined this conference today—it gives us another opportunity to interact with the new generation.”

The young men chosen to participate were handpicked from 20 different schools throughout the district. They received invitations based on the strength of their grade point average (GPA), standardized test scores, attendance record, and overall conduct.

Goosby has reached the point in his life when the proverbial road to adulthood splits in two separate but equally impactful directions. He says that participating in the conference will connect him with other young men who aspire to achieve at the next level of their academic careers and beyond.

“I want to inspire more kids like me and let them know they aren’t alone,” he explained. “I’m talking to as many adults as I can—I’m constantly talking to my mentors and learning as many life lessons I can so that I can avoid making mistakes that I can’t come back from.”

He added, “I made a lot of mistakes during my freshman year of high school and I’m still recovering from them. But as I get closer to graduating and moving on to college, I’m confident that my future won’t be a reflection of my past. This conference sends that message to everyone who was given the privilege of being invited.”

The conference began in the school’s auditorium. Dozens of young high-achievers watched with anticipation as LAUSD school board member George McKenna delivered a powerful speech about the importance of togetherness and brotherhood, particularly in Black and Latino communities.

“Young Black men have to learn and respect each other and not fall prey to seeing each other as enemies,” said Mckenna. “They fight over turf that they don’t lease or pay taxes on. It’s a ridiculous concept. Unity is our strength. The question is: do we have the strength to be united.

“Sometimes youngbloods have a tendency to get separated by emotion and individual aspirations. They draw lines in the sand. Other people all see us as inferior and subordinate. We can’t see ourselves that way, and we certainly cannot fight one another—it serves no purpose.”

He added, “They [Black youth] need to study together in school so they can excel together in school. We have to be together in investments in our studies in our social relationships and with each other.”

Mckenna, one of the most influential educators in the country thanks to his success in transforming an inner-city high school in L.A., warns against young people going to college without a handle on what they intend to study.

“My advice to any young adult considering advancing their education is this: Don’t go to college until you know why you’re going to college. Going to college is not a social activity. It’s not something to brag about. If you go to college and don’t know what you want to major in, it’s not going to help you. Do something else.

“Going to college is just one pathway. Most people won’t go. It won’t make you more intelligent, it just helps you build relationships.”

The biggest worry college kids have today is money, a new survey reports. According to Ohio State University, 70 percent of nearly 19,000 students surveyed said they’re stressed about their finances. Six in 10 were worried about tuition costs, and half stressed about having enough to cover day-to-day expenses.

Also, in 2016, an estimated 2.8 million university graduates entered the U.S. workforce with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees just as America’s unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in nearly seven years. However, the millennial generation is still lagging in the workplace, and it’s estimated that Generation Y (people born during the 1980s and early 1990s) will also experience difficulty securing gainful employment down the road. Currently, young adults (those ranging between ages 20-28) make up about 40 percent of the unemployed in the U.S., says Anthony Carnevale, a director and research professor for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Mckenna says that immersing yourself in overwhelming debt—even when the investment is your education— doesn’t make financial sense when there are other avenues that can be used to achieve personal and professional success.

“Don’t saddle yourself with a bunch of debt that you can’t afford. Go to community college if you really want an education. You don’t have to graduate from Harvard. You can graduate from a Cal State. That’s a way to save money. And again, college isn’t always the solution. I just want our young Black men to obey the law, love each other, and for them to be productive—all of that requires common sense, not book smarts. Believe me—you can’t teach common sense in a classroom.”

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer says teacher engagement is one of the most important aspects of the academic process. He believes educators must equip their students with skills they can use to thrive in a modern world.

“We have to imbue our students with a passion for learning,” he explained. “We have to make high school and college experiences relevant to what the job market is and the skills sets that corporations and public sector organizations are looking for.”

Zimmer continued, “We have to bring an authentic love to what we [educators] do and who we are engaging with. For our system to change and for it to be transformational for young men of color, we must approach the schoolhouse door with a respect and urgency.”

As the wheels of progress continue to churn at a snail’s pace for minorities, the odds are stacked particularly high against the nation’s young Black males. These obstacles come in many forms, and the latest census data paints a disturbingly bleak picture for America’s most depraved demographic—its boys of color.

Over the past 40 years, the prison population has quintupled, reports the Washignton Post. As a consequence of disparities in arrests and sentencing, this eruption has disproportionately affected Black communities. Black men are imprisoned at six times the rate of White men. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that Black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes. For some high-risk groups, the economic consequences have been staggering. According to Census data from 2014, there are more young Black high school dropouts in prison than have jobs.

“That won’t be me,” promises Goosby, who’s leaning toward attending Pacific University of Oregon. “I’m destined for a lot more.”