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A local panel convened by a national fraternity Thursday pondered the means for boosting academic achievement among African-American boys.

Alpha Phi Alpha, the historically African-American fraternity, which opened its 2013 Eastern Regional Convention on Wednesday in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, has for decades been involved in public service projects, such as tutoring and mentoring, that specifically target young black males.

Thursday’s panel discussion, which was held in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, featured a mix of participants from the fields of academia, law and politics. Henry Louis Taylor, a University at Buffalo professor and director of the Center for Urban Studies, said a lack of quality early-childhood educational opportunities in poor black neighborhoods is a major contributor to an achievement gap for African-American boys.

“There is a vast literature that says that if a child reaches first grade not ready to learn, then that child is higher risk for struggling academically, not graduating on time or dropping out of school altogether, depending upon that school’s prison pipeline,” said Taylor.

He noted that in the neighborhood surrounding the Commodore Perry public housing project, southeast of downtown, 75 percent of the children do not attend any kind of preschool programs.

“The vast majority of those kids are enrolled in day care centers, licensed and unlicensed, or they stay at home with parents – mother, probably – or a caregiver. The problem is that these day care centers are low-quality ones that do not provide the children with the skills, the competencies, the resiliency and the aspirations that they need by the time that they’re in first grade,” Taylor said.

Erie County Family Court Judge Kevin M. Carter, another panelist, blamed a high percentage of out-of-wedlock births.

“The real problem is this: Even when you have children out of wedlock, you have to participate in raising them,” said Carter

“When you have little black boys with no guidance from black men, chances are they’re going to go by the wayside. Boys have a way of challenging their mothers. … I see it time and again in Erie County Family Court,” he added.

Others participating on the panel included Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo; Ron Scott, a sociology professor at SUNY Buffalo State; and John Elmore, special trial counsel and managing attorney for Brown Chiari Personal Injury Lawyers.

Warren Lowe, a spokesman for one of the local chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha, said the fraternity’s Leadership Institute, which identifies African-American boys with leadership potential, is one of many volunteer programs aimed at helping to close the African-American male achievement gap.

“We try to get them more college-prepared, more professional, more civic-minded and more driven to head in the right direction versus what’s out there for everyday life,” said Lowe.

The regional convention is hosted by local chapters Rho Lambda and Delta Epsilon and continues through Saturday.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com