larenz tate (bloom)

Actor Larenz Tate, BLOOM Initiative spokesperson

*Anthony Davis barely qualifies for the so called “Y” generation.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 represent this category, and according to sociologists and economists in the know, hard times are in store for almost anyone born beyond the early 80’s.

It seems unwise to argue the contrary, since the proof, at least for now, is in the pudding, which includes a floundering economy, continuous unemployment, crippling budget cuts to schools nationwide, among other civil services, as well as the ever-looming threat of global fatality, be it nuclear or from natural causes.

Needless to say, growing up in the “hood” puts minors even further behind the eight ball. Such was the case for young Anthony, who, at 19, has already served a half-decade behind bars. With no father to provide a sense of direction, he comes from a neighborhood where gunshots ring like doorbells. Turf wars, drug infestation, academic decay, and abject poverty also plagued his environment during his childhood. It wasn’t long before Anthony, who hadn’t yet graduated from junior high, caved under the pressure of his surroundings. With a full deck already stacked against him, the youngster further exacerbated matters by making several ill-advised choices.

For starters, early in his adolescence, Anthony stumbled into a life of crime and delinquency. Bit by bit, various criminal charges (he declined to specify) began to mount against him. With the walls of punishment slowly closing in, and the judicial system calling, all hell eventually broke loose. At only 13, he was arrested and subsequently issued his first sentence. Several court appearances thereafter forced the hand of a county judge, who was presumably looking to make a statement.

What resulted was a ruling for Anthony to serve a five year accumulated term in one of many juvenile correctional facilities scattered about L.A. County. Like herded cattle, he and many others were forced to migrate from one location to the next, due to an overload of inmates throughout county institutions.

Five years elapsed before Anthony was released from the last of several detention centers he had come to know for “at risk” youth. It was then that Anthony, one year into adulthood, was confronted with two opposing destinies. The first option would have cast him back behind bars. The alternative provided the contrary: freedom, opportunity, family contact, and most of all—hope.

With his forehead glazed in sweat, his hands trembling, and his eyes taking inventory of the slew of flashing cameras encamped about the room, Anthony slowly pulled the microphone in front of him closer. The occasion, which took place inside one of downtown L.A.’s swanky Hilton hotels, was a roundtable luncheon in honor of BLOOM’s (Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men) one year anniversary.

As the heavy-hitters in attendance looked on, including veteran actor and BLOOM spokesman Larenz Tate, the bold teenager spoke at length about his past missteps. He also credited the program for helping him become a productive member of his community, despite an ongoing family history of gang affiliation and criminality.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have the finer things in life,” he expressed while wiping perspiration from his brow. “It was around me—the cars, the jewelry and all of that. But I didn’t have it. So I did bad things to get what I wanted. Going to jail never crossed my mind. I wish it had.”

He continued:

“When I was locked up, my mother didn’t support me because she couldn’t accept who I was and where I was. “Even when I got out I thought no one would be there and that I would eventually go back to jail. But when I joined BLOOM they helped me readjust. They bought me work attire, set me up with job interviews, got me back in school, and helped get me off probation. My own family couldn’t even do that.”

Tate also weighed in:

“This initiative changes lives. It affects families. I look at what BLOOM is doing and I’m thankful because if my loved ones had this, I think some of them would still be alive or would have chosen a different lifestyle.”

“My focus is to use my visibility and my celebrity to shift more eyes to this cause,” he added during an interview. “One of our first priorities is donorship. We also want to get more teens admitted to college. We want to provide them with jobs and opportunities to sharpen their skills. And we want to keep them off the streets and out of jail.”

The “Love Jones” actor occasionally switches hats and operates behind the camera directing music videos with assistance from his elder brother. Not long ago he was joined on set by handful of BLOOMers who got a chance to soak up the atmosphere. Tate’s verdict?

“They fit right in—no one had a clue where they came from.”

Other speakers on the panel included George Weaver, special program administrator for the Brotherhood Crusade, a mentoring program for African-American males, as well as Kareem Webb, a Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee.

The crux in regard to “getting out” of prison is, conversely, avoiding going back in. With recidivism rates among minorities reaching a fever pitch, staying clean seems easier said than done. In addition, employers generally shun individuals with a criminal background or disposition.

These harsh realities lend perspective into the importance of the BLOOM initiative, a lifeline for young men fresh out of the “joint” in need of direction and support. The well-to-do program is subsidized by a multitude of grants and sponsorship from various affiliates, benefactors and sister organizations, among other outlets. They include McDonalds, AEG, Martin Alder Media, LA Metro, UPS and Buffalo Wild Wings, to name a few. As a result, participants (otherwise called “BLOOMers”) have access to a cornucopia of available jobs, internships, apprenticeships, and educational opportunities. Additionally, interpersonal and etiquette courses are made available to those who desire sophistication and polish. The California Community Foundation (CCF),  a tax-exempt, public nonprofit organization committed to transformative change across Los Angeles, set a precedent by launching the BLOOM campaign, the country’s only safety net for teenaged African American males with a criminal past. That participants become fully functioning adults underlies the purpose and overall intent of the initiative.

From an economic standpoint, pulling kids out of  “juvie,” and keeping them from the big house, pays dividends for taxpayers in that an estimated $100,000 per year is required to incarcerate a youth in any of the various L.A. County probation camps. On the flip side, by subtracting one percent (at minimum) from the total amount of teens caught up in the justice system, taxpayers, as a result, would annually save $4 million in crime-related costs and tax money otherwise siphoned into large scale prisons throughout the region. A 10 percent drop off (of incarcerated youth) over the next five years translates into a savings of $48.8 million yearly.

Because Los Angeles’ ongoing debt crisis remains a hard pill to swallow (it’s well into the hundreds of millions of dollars despite the minimization of California’s overall deficit), securing leftover tax revenue from reduced incarceration and recidivism rates—particularly among young Black males—is an appetizing proposition to say the least. But is it feasible? BLOOM initiative director Robert Lewis, tends to think so. When he was given the floor to speak during the luncheon, Lewis made it a point to emphasize the socioeconomic advantages of clearing space in prisons. He also hammered home that recidivism (the chronic tendency toward repetition of criminal or antisocial behavior patterns) is likely to occur without the provision of various necessities.

“Some might see this as a challenge, but we see it as an opportunity,” declared Lewis, who is also CCF’s Program Officer.“ It costs taxpayers $240,000 per year to house an inmate in state prison. It costs roughly half that amount for juveniles in the probation system. That money could be used to strengthen the budget in this city [Los Angeles].”

In theory, additional funding would also generate more opportunities for employment throughout the Southland and surrounding areas. The numbers show that 45.7 percent of Blacks in Los Angeles County are either unemployed or not in the labor force, the highest among any racial/ethnic subgroup in the area. In addition, South Los Angeles’ populace of African-American males ages 14 to 18 account for only 10 percent of the county’s youth population, but also represent 33 percent of all youth under probation supervision. Adding insult to injury, teenaged Black males reap the consequences of  juvenile felonies 16 times more often than their White counterparts.

To reduce the risk of further disproportion between both groups, leaders of the BLOOM campaign have kept a watchful eye on South L.A., home to 23 percent of all young Black males in the entire county. Lewis concluded the open forum by outlining BLOOM’s course of action for the future. That includes a town hall meeting on May 2, multiple efforts to secure additional sponsorship, the continued supervision and expansion of active BLOOMers, as well as the distribution of available resources.

“It’s long overdue,” Lewis said in reference to the program. “We all reap the benefits of the civil rights movement, but many of do not take advantage of those benefits. This is our way of facilitating the process.”

Fore additional information about the BLOOM initiative, visit www.calfund.org/bloom.