MOST DANGEROUS AND ENDANGERED As both victims and perpetrators of crime and other pathologies, America's boys need help. An important lesson: Work on solutions with groups, not just individuals.
By Rick Tetzeli

(FORTUNE Magazine) – WHEN DETROIT announced a plan to open three all-male, all-black public schools last year, the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union rose up and defeated it. In response the Board of Education allotted 130 places in the three academies to girls. But the word went out in the community: Don't send your daughters. And when Ray Johnson, administrator of the Paul Robeson Academy, opened his doors in September, 146 of his 160 students, preschoolers through second-graders, were boys. Says he: ''That shows you the will and the power of the community. They know that business as usual isn't working.'' Business as usual isn't working. Bluntly put, boys are in crisis. A few of the grim statistics: Firearm homicide is the second leading cause of death for boys 15 to 19 years old, after car crashes. At least 120,000 teens became fathers in 1989. Unemployment among teen boys is 25.4%, up from 15.5% four years ago. Though the crisis is by no means confined to African American youths, it is most acute among them: An estimated 40% fail to graduate from big-city high schools; more black men are embroiled in the criminal justice system than are enrolled in higher education. The financial consequences of the crisis are severe. The federal government spent over $25 billion in 1990 on health and social services for families begun by teen mothers. The cost of treating gunshot wounds was an estimated $863 million in 1985, the most recent year for which figures are available, and that was before the recent escalation in violence. Ron Mincy, a sociologist at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says the country has spent some $20 billion in the past few years building prisons mostly to house young African American men. ''Nobody's calculus makes sense of that number,'' he says. ''We do treat people who fall through the cracks -- girls in welfare, boys in prison -- but it would be cheaper if we went back earlier in the life cycle and asked what we want adolescents to accomplish.'' Schools, hospitals, and groups funded by government and business are beginning to address that question. Programs that target males from high-risk backgrounds -- those in low-income, single-parent families, from neighborhoods where economic prospects are minimal and boys are faced with gangs, drug dealing, and soaring rates of violence -- are trying to get to the boys before the trouble starts.

Child development experts believe the preschool and junior high years are particularly critical. Head Start, which has achieved short-term success in preparing low-income boys and girls for school, is everyone's favorite early childhood development program. But a recent study by J. S. Fuerst, professor of social welfare policy at Loyola University in Chicago, suggests that for boys the gains from early childhood programs don't last. Fuerst looked at the Chicago Child Parent Centers, six public schools that combined heavy parental involvement with a highly structured learning program for at-risk kids. One school took in preschoolers at age 3 and stayed with them through sixth grade; the other five went only through third grade. The results of Fuerst's study are discouraging. Only 49% of the boys who attended the schools that went through third grade graduated from high school, compared with 40% of boys in a similarly disadvantaged group that received no preschool education at all. When boys stayed through the sixth grade, however, 70% graduated. Says Fuerst: ''We've been breaking our backs patting ourselves on the back over the success of Head Start. If funding is limited, we should ! focus on low-income and minority families and give them an extended period of exposure, especially for boys.'' JACQUELYNNE ECCLES, a professor of child psychology at the University of Michigan, identifies characteristics shared by 10- to 13-year-old kids at risk: low self-confidence, low grades, a history of trouble in school, and strained relationships with their fathers in many cases. Boys grow more anxious about performing poorly in school, especially if the future seems dim. Eccles sees a growing number of such boys in the suburban southeast Michigan communities she has been studying. Says she: ''Their families have worked for generations in the Detroit factories. This is the first generation of boys who can't count on that. The payoff for education is not as clear to them as it was to their parents.'' Detroit's academies, the closest thing in the country to all-male, all-black public schools, represent an attempt to provide the kind of continuing support Fuerst calls for, though many educators and other experts dislike the way they do it. This fall the Paul Robeson Academy will move into its own building and add a third grade; eventually it will serve kids through the eighth grade. Building self-esteem is a central goal, as is providing boys with male role models: Unlike those in most elementary schools, many of the teachers are men. Discipline in the small classes is strong, and the curriculum is demanding, with math, science, social studies, English, and French all taught beginning in preschool. Students are expected to live by the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Says administrator Johnson: ''I'm not interested in any candy-coated, kiddy-cute kind of education playing with building blocks.'' Parental involvement is high, and parents who attended a June graduation ceremony are happy with the school. Says Betty Pettaway, mother of a 6-year- old kindergartener, Winzell: ''I like the structure of how they teach little boys to be men. Now when he acts up at home, I say, 'Is that a Paul Robeson boy?' and he checks himself.'' Adds Deborah Brooks, single mother of 7-year-old Hakim: ''I work in the records office at a prison, and one thing I find is how many of the men there come from broken homes where they didn't have a male figure to look up to. This will help him out a great deal.'' More fathers seem to be recognizing their own importance. A 1991 study by Du Pont showed that 35% of male employees wanted a transition time to care for a newborn, vs. 15% who felt that way in 1986. Terry Thompson, 34, a single father who works as a mail service agent at Du Pont's headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, arranged with his boss to work at home for a month after the birth of his son, Marcus, in May. ''The baby's mother and I decided I would be the one to raise him,'' he says. ''I worked when the baby was sleeping, which means I put in some really weird hours, but the work did get done. I felt it was really important that I be there at the beginning for Marcus. I know if I don't raise him, the streets will, and I don't want that.'' While Detroit will expand its academy system to ten schools next fall, many experts believe that all-male, all-black schools send the wrong message to African American boys. Says Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, a child psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley and editor of Young, Black, and Male in America: An Endangered Species: ''We are telling these boys that there's something so wrong with you that you can't learn in a regular environment. Furthermore, we're resegregating the schools, and I'm totally opposed to that.'' IN TRUTH, few supporters of such schools see them as the only way to teach African American youth. Says the Urban Institute's Mincy: ''I view them as one of a number of initiatives we can construct to learn about serving young black males.'' He adds: ''Liberals have compassion for low-income and minority populations, but they also have feminism in their bones, and that makes it impossible for them to admit that boys and girls are different. That's a political issue I'm not interested in. I want to know what we're going to do to close the gaps between black males and white males and between black males and black women.'' Those gaps are often wide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47% of black males between 16 and 19 are unemployed this summer, vs. 36% of black girls and 22% of white boys. Mentors have traditionally offered beneficial role models for many boys. Recognizing this, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) launched the highly successful Futures 500 program at Washington, D.C.'s Woodside High School three years ago. Boys and girls who get all A's and B's are awarded $500 per semester toward college tuition and assigned a Fannie Mae employee mentor. One effect, says salutatorian Jonathan Pinckney, 18, a Futures 500 member, is that the traditional role of inner-city peer groups has been turned on its head at Woodside. It's hard for other students to argue with successful teens who are going on field trips with their mentors and earning money for good grades. Says he: ''The students who succeed are no longer looked down upon, and the others want to be a part of it, even if they don't verbally communicate the idea.'' That fact illustrates an important point: Mentoring works best when group dynamics reinforce the effect. Ron Mincy says, ''Trying to change the thinking and behavior of black youth by operating on the individual is foolish. We have to operate with the peer group.'' Preventive interventions, like some sex education programs for inner-city youth, are finding the same thing: Working with groups of boys is the best way to break down cultural myths they inherit from peers. This is especially crucial for 10- to 15-year-old boys, who begin to look up to older boys more than they do to whatever parents may be around. Since 1990 the Male Adolescent Program at Rush Presbyterian Center St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago has led small groups of sixth- through eighth-grade boys -- most from low-income, broken homes -- in weekly hour-long sessions that combine math and reading with learning about sexual responsibility. Social workers lead discussions provoked by the boys' questions, such as, ''What do I do if a girl offers to have sex with me, and I know she's done it with a bunch of my friends?'' The boys themselves came up with pros and cons to consider in answering the question. The 55 boys in the program the first year all passed on to the next grade, and none became fathers. Says program director Stephen Gillenwater: ''That's highly unusual for this population. These kids are stuck. They hear that if they're going to be men they have to have sex. On the other hand, their parents have told them not to have a kid, without any details as to how to prevent it.'' Typically boys turn to older peers for sexual information -- or misinformation. ''When we started, there was a myth around the sixth-graders on the West Side that ear wax would keep a girl from getting pregnant. If she jumps when you put ear wax on her, she's got a sexually transmitted disease.'' ACCORDING TO the nonprofit Alan Gutmacher Institute, 72% of American boys lose their virginity by age 19, and 33% by 16. Largely because of AIDS, condom ! use has doubled since 1982. Some 66% of sexually active black males between 15 and 19, and 54% of whites, say they used a condom the last time they had sex. AIDS isn't the only reason safety makes sense. Prospects for young fathers of every color are terrible. Fewer than 25% of teen fathers are married to their child's mother at the child's birth, and 62% of those drop out of high school. Yet for some boys fatherhood still looks like a shortcut to adulthood. Chris Hoopiiaina, 17, met his wife, Claudia, 18, two years ago, when he was rigging the stage for her dance class at Granite High School in Salt Lake City. They married last September, and Claudia gave birth to their son, Colton, in January. Chris says they planned the baby: ''We just wanted to get out and experience our lives. This way we'll still be young when Colton is growing up.'' But being a father has been more than Chris bargained for. The Hoopiiainas moved into their own apartment when Colton was born. Now they're $3,000 in debt and back living with his folks. Says Chris: ''We spent our money on fast- food restaurants and movies, and I bought a stereo. There was no money for rent because we were just throwing it away on stupid things.'' Both Chris and Claudia have dropped out of school and are working full time: Chris takes orders at Burger King, and Claudia waits on customers at Arby's. His mother and stepfather take care of Colton when they're working. According to their plan, eventually Chris will start working two jobs to put Claudia through college, then she'll put him through college. Chris finds help in a support group for fathers at the University of Utah Medical Center Teen Mother and Child Program, funded in part by US West. Once a month teen fathers like Chris get together to vent frustrations and trade tips on parenting. Says he: ''We need all the help we can get. You wouldn't believe how good it feels to talk to someone who's going through what you're going through.'' Such support groups are becoming more common, and the demand is growing. According to Nancy Hale Stewart, a social worker at the Salt Lake City clinic, more couples are coming in now without basic necessities like food and shelter, and without support from their parents. Also disturbing is that more teens say they planned their child. Says Chris: ''Around here it looks like the Nineties are going to be the Pregnancy Hall of Fame.'' Several of the Hoopiiainas' friends have become pregnant after seeing Chris and Claudia still together and happy. Says he: ''They began to admire us and think they might be proud to be parents too. I feel miserable about it. They don't have any clue what it's like.'' A better ticket to adulthood is a job. Joe Swift, 16, was 4 years old when his father went to prison for killing Joe's mother. After moving around a great deal and living with different family members, Joe finally wound up in the New Life Youth Services rehabilitation facility in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, after pleading guilty to grand theft auto. With the help of an auto mechanics teacher there, Joe decided to turn his life around. Says he: ''I decided to stop vandalizing cars and start fixing them.'' When Joe got out in May 1990, New Life placed him with a foster mother in a trailer park in Green Lane, Pennsylvania, where he and four of his friends repair neighbors' cars and motorcycles. This August he starts a two-year apprenticeship in metalworking at Cook Specialty Co. He'll work two days a week at the metal parts fabricator and spend three days a week at a local technical school, where his classroom courses will be tailored to his work experience.

Cook Specialty CEO Tom Panzarella is proud of his company's reputation, which Xerox burnished in January by honoring the company as one of its 32 ''certified parts suppliers'' worldwide. Why would Panzarella put that reputation on the line with a boy like Joe? He responds: ''Are we going to condemn a kid for life because of past problems?'' Taking that kind of chance is one way business can help boys with the odds against them. Poised and confident, Joe seems more than ready to handle new responsibilities. Of the many boys who applied for internships at Cook, he scored highest on the mechanical aptitude test. His street smarts and savvy also greatly impressed the boss. Says Panzarella: ''It wasn't 'Let's do this for the good of Joe.' He can be an excellent employee and a real leader, if he wants it.'' James Comer, a child psychiatrist at Yale who has worked in inner cities for years, says we can't wait any longer to address the economic and social issues that keep disadvantaged boys, especially inner-city minorities, from entering the mainstream. ''It's getting late,'' he says. ''I look at the year 2000 as a psychological watershed. If we don't put some things in place by then, we'll be on a precipitous downward slope.'' For every boy like Joe Swift, many more don't get much encouragement to break out of their often desperate situations. . Others see little incentive to avoid fighting, stealing, leaving school, creating babies, doing drugs, or taking other legal and economic risks that can cause much misery later. Programs like those described here try to supply such encouragement and incentive; their basic message to boys should be heeded, too, by a country that wants to help them: As Joe puts it, ''The future depends on now.''