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President's Challenge Draws 150 to Saturday Summit

Following the high profile shootings of three black teenagers this fall, President Barack Obama issued a challenge to cities: find a way a stop young people of color from falling through the cracks.

"One of the reasons that I felt the city of Portland needed to respond to that challenge is because we know that the issues that are central to My Brother's Keeper are here in the City of Portland." says Mayor Michael Brennan.

The city was one of more than a hundred municipalities and tribes to take up the president's My Brother's Keeper Challenge.  Speaking to a crowd of about 150 educators, students, parents, law enforcement, and city officials, Brennan said Portland has a racial and socio-economic achievement gap.
"What do we want to become as a community? What do we want to become as a city? What do we want to be and how do we represent ourselves in terms of assisting and supporting all youth in this city, and in particular youth of color to achieve and be what they can be?"

Portland, says Brennan, is no exception to national trends and statistics, with a 33% gap in third grade reading proficiency levels between black and white students. 

But people have come to accept the failure.

" We assume it's the inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it actually is." says U.S. Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Michael Yudin . "We know that black students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled before they graduate from high school. We know they're far more likely to be  involved in thecriminal justice system, and they're far more likely to be victims of violent crime."

One of the participants at Saturday's summit was Marcia Minter, whose son attends Casco Bay High School. She says the My Brother's Keeper Challenge  is a good step for the city to take, but she says she hopes that her son won't have to keep fighting the same battles she did. 

"I'm hopeful that he will see the level of change that I've been able to see in my lifetime, you know, but I also hope that he doesn't have to continually see history repeating itself over and over again."

Organizers of the summit say a task force will take information gathered from Saturday's session to create recommendations, and then a plan of action for the city  by spring of this year.