Written by Brian Haas
Tyrone Howard was tired of the prevailing narratives.
As police shootings of young black men became a fixture in national headlines during the past few years, he was struck by how stories about young minority males were so routinely negative. Howard, a UCLA professor of education, asked himself where the stories were about his peers who avoided trouble, went to college and became successful.
“We got so locked in on the negative,” he says. “I thought to myself, why don’t people talk about people like me and my peers?”
That question ultimately led to the publication, in December 2016, of “The Counter Narrative”. The illuminating report shares stories of successful young black and Latino students from across Los Angeles County, and it documents the characteristics and circumstances that contributed to their achievements.
Now, Howard hopes the report and future research on the subject could lead to public policy, programs and even legislation that gives others a chance to replicate the experiences of the men profiled in the report. Already, researchers from other universities and municipalities have talked to Howard about how they could conduct similar studies.
One of the project’s biggest surprises revealed itself even before the results were in. The students being interviewed routinely told the researchers that they were amazed people were actually interested in what they had to say.
“Many of them were shocked,” Howard says. “‘You want to talk to me?’ Usually people want to talk to the kids who are a problem.”
In the end, the 200–plus interviews revealed that the young men who took pride in hard work, saw the impact of their achievements on their families and communities, and acknowledged the sacrifices their families made for them. Many of the students were active volunteers at churches, schools or community centers. Most were college-bound. And most attributed their success — at least in part — to having found a relative, teacher or community member to serve as a mentor.
“For all of them, there were people who had invested in them,” Howard says. “People who took time to be role models for them.”
Thanks to widespread interest in the report from around Los Angeles and around the U.S., the project could help inspire a new generation of students to thrive — and it could help reframe the discussion about black and Latino students.