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Letter from Jonathan Kraft: Working to address social inequality

A letter from New England Patriots president Jonathan Kraft:

Along with our players, I chose to attend a Listen and Learn event at Harvard Law School because the social commentary of the last couple of years has shown that there is a growing disconnect between many factions in our society. This growing disconnect is of great concern to me, as I know it is to our players, and many others who want to break down barriers between people of different backgrounds and ensure that equal opportunity exists for all citizens to benefit from the advantages our country has to offer.

I found the day to be incredibly informative. Rashan Hall of the ACLU, who presented to us in the first session, gave great insight and perspective as to how, since the days of slavery, there has been an inherent bias in many of our federal government programs (i.e. the original Social Security Act, the original GI Bill and the Federal Highway Act, among others) that served to institutionalize and perpetuate the challenges African-Americans face relative to Caucasian-Americans in trying to improve their economic circumstances. Jeremy Thompson then gave a compelling real-world example of how, even with the right intentions and motivations, there are numerous societal and community factors that pull you back into the world from which you are trying to escape. His personal story was a great embodiment of just how hard it is to escape the cycle of negativity and inherent challenges that exist for many young men of color growing up in the urban environments of our country. In addition, he gave a poignant description of the importance of learning about financial responsibility -- he recalled watching his mother move around the community paying her bills while he was still very young. That education gave him the personal foundation to persevere through difficult times. It was very powerful.

In addition, the session on the school-to-prison pipeline was also very informative. I was shocked to learn that in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, children as young as seven years old can be arrested for misbehaving in a classroom, brought in to court and be given a criminal record. The idea that children can be given the stigma of a criminal record years and years before reaching puberty, let alone adulthood, was mind-blowing to me. These arrests have happened extensively to children of color. The idea that some educators use this as a threat to help employ discipline in their classroom, or as a vehicle to remove students from their classroom that they no longer want to teach, is unconscionable and tragic.

As I reflect on the Listen and Learn event, there are many potential areas of focus to try and affect change. There are two areas in particular that I believe would be most impactful and that I hope our organization can contribute in some way to advancing. The first is more financial literacy programs being made available to elementary school-aged children in our cities. As a society, we need to do a better job teaching and explaining the importance of financial responsibility, living within your budget, paying your bills in a timely fashion and the uses and pitfalls of credit. As Jeremy Thompson so eloquently described, he was fortunate to have a mother who taught him these things at a young age. The second is working to dramatically raise the minimum age at which a child can be arrested, and preventing teachers from turning to law enforcement as a tool for policing classrooms of elementary school-aged children. I have already spoken to a number of elected officials about this, many of whom didn't know that children as young as seven years old could and were being arrested for misbehaving in class.

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