The problems of troubled young males are well known to society. New, and existing, initiatives hope to make a difference in problems that affect us all. Some say the solutions are, in some cases, well within our grasp.
In February, President Barack Obama announced a new White House initiative called “My Brother’s Keeper.” Its purpose: To improve the lives of black and Hispanic males, and help them overcome challenges and reach their full potential. It’s a noble objective to help these at-risk young men of color, an effort numerous businesses, individuals and organizations undertake in our region.
One example: The Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc., founded and overseen by Norma Joy Barnes. The six-year-old nonprofit hosts workshops, mentoring programs and other events in an attempt to combat what she says are almost insurmountable odds — a vulnerable gap between youth and manhood experienced by many males, but disturbingly so for blacks.
Surely, many young men (and women) of all stripes and hues could benefit from a program like Barnes’ and as proposed by the president. The nation’s young people need the support and tools to make good choices, embrace resiliency and overcome obstacles.
Perhaps that’s why Obama’s initiative has its share of critics. One of today’s guest writers likens the multimillion-dollar initiative to “profiling.” Moreover, he suggests that it sends a message to blacks and Hispanics: You need special attention so you won’t “screw up.”
On the other aisle, however, an Atlanta-based author says the “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign should focus on educating the nation on how to change the outcome of black males. He cites the anti-bullying and anti-smoking campaigns as examples.
Regardless of one’s perspective on the issue, there’s one thing we likely all can acknowledge: Young folk, in this region and beyond, need as much support and guidance as our society can muster. As in helping at-risk individuals, regardless of color. We can improve their lot. By doing so, we enrich our region, state and country. To do otherwise would be costly and foolhardy.
Rick Badie, for the Editorial Board
By Roger Clegg
Last week, the president announced his “My Brother’s Keeper” program. It will involve a combined effort of businesses, philanthropies and government to improve the prospects of “at risk” young men of color. The White House uses “of color” to include, in addition to blacks, Hispanics.
Now, it’s a good thing the president wants to address problems facing these young men (and it would be an even better thing if the program ends up addressing the key underlying problem, namely, out-of-wedlock births). But the obvious question, is why its efforts should be limited to young men of certain racial and ethnic groups — indeed, why it should not also include young women.
It is almost always illegal for the government (and any private program that receives federal money) to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. There is no “compelling” interest to do so here. It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians and others are. This is just another kind of “profiling.”
Nor will it do to say there are other programs available for those being excluded here, as one White House official is quoted as saying. This is just another separate-but-equal argument.
President Barack Obama has caved in to pressure from the left — the Congressional Black Caucus and others — to do something he was generally unwilling to do up to now: Endorse a federal program that is overtly limited to those of a particular color.
Constitutionality aside, it is divisive and unfair to have racially exclusive programs. And what kind of message is given to blacks and Latinos when they are told their young men are so problematic that they have to be singled out for special help so they don’t screw up?
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Minority Male Students Face Challenge to Achieve at Community Colleges,” discussed various successes and failures in that arena. Particularly intriguing was this passage:
And instead of offering small, “boutique” programs for minority students that attract just a few dozen students, (one expert) said, colleges should extend programs like mandatory study-skills classes, learning communities, and tutoring to all students. Minority students will benefit disproportionately from such strategies, she said, but they won’t feel embarrassed by participating.
What kind of a message is being sent by Obama and the federal government when one or two racial/ethnic groups are singled out for special treatment? Or should it be assumed instead that they are being singled out because “The System” is so stacked against them?
How difficult would it have been for the president to have designed the program so that it was open to at-risk youth of all colors — the way even the Chronicle of Higher Education apparently acknowledges makes more sense?
Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Virginia-based Center for Equal Opportunity, wrote this article for his organization’s website.
By Nick Chiles
When the media talk about black males, there’s usually a patina of despair that blankets the discussion. This is understandable: Journalists and policy experts prefer the converse in the language of statistics. Numbers describing black males are grim.
Another one jumped out Tuesday, with the “Race for Results” report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It found that African-American young people lag behind every other group in various indicators. We’ve read similar reports for decades.
But when you fly at a lower altitude, the story changes. There are families, schools, neighborhoods painting a different narrative about black boys. They know black boys can succeed and know how to make it happen.
We are at a rare moment in our nation’s evolution. The killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis questioned the value of black male life. President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative has proffered the challenge: What can we do as a nation to improve life for black males?
There’s much we can do. I have spent the past two decades thinking and writing about black males in addition to raising one of my own. There’s an astounding bounty of research on the lives and development of them. Researchers and educators have identified key elements of success. Those findings have not been widely shared with people who need the information most — parents, teachers and community leaders.
The most important thing “My Brother’s Keeper” can do is formulate a massive public education campaign to tell the nation how to change outcomes for black boys. Something on the order of the anti-smoking and anti-bullying campaigns.
We could inform parents of the enormous difference it makes to speak to your child from day one. Researchers have shown that middle-class children hear as many as 30 million more words than poor kids by the time they are three. This gap has a huge impact on brain growth and language skills.
Parents might also be instructed on how much of a difference they can make in the development of their child with their parenting style. Northwestern University professor Jelani Mandara hosts workshops with Chicago single mothers to teach them how to use an authoritative style — loving but demanding — which Mandara has found effective with black boys.
For schools, something as simple as smiling more at black boys can make a difference. This has been proven out in Oakland by Christopher Chatmon, executive director of the Oakland school district’s Office for African-American Male Achievement.
If community leaders want to help these boys, they can do so by pushing two initiatives: jobs and neighborhood recreation centers. Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, proves on a daily basis the link between academic performance and offering students extracurricular activities.
This stuff is not complicated, or enormously expensive. If parents, schools and communities can get these things right, the narrative for black males will have a happier ending.
Nick Chiles, an Atlanta resident and Pulitzer Prize winner, co-authored “The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership.”
President Barack Obama announced the “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign on Feb. 27 . Excerpts from his speech:
After months of conversation with a wide range of people, we’ve pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, nonprofits, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success, and we’re committed to building on what works. And we call it “My Brother’s Keeper.”
“My Brother’s Keeper” is not some new, big government program. In my State of the Union address, I outlined work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth, the manufacturing hubs, infrastructure spending. But what we’re talking about here today … is a more focused effort on boys and young men of color who are having a particularly tough time.
And in this effort, government cannot play the only or even the primary role.
Broadening the horizons for our young men, giving them the tools that they need to succeed, will require a sustained effort from all of us. Today I am pleased to announce that some of the most forward-thinking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years, on top of the $150 million they have already invested, to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country.
Today … I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies and with local communities to implement proven solutions.
We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, a chance to reach their full potential, because if we do, if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hard-working citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass the lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren. We’ll start a different cycle. And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come. So let’s get going.