Should we create pathways of opportunity for at-risk boys and young men of color?

Dean Rohrer/NewsArt

Dean Rohrer/NewsArt

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, we revisit President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, his proposal to build pathways of opportunity for at-risk boys and young men of color. I interview the founder of an Atlanta nonprofit that, among other programs, offers a free 12-week session called the Male Priority Initiative. Moreover, a freelance writer and father challenges individuals and society to negate the need for the president’s initiative. Finally, a Georgia State University doctoral student writes about becoming a father while a teen.

Initiative grooms young men

We talk with Norma Joy Barnes, chief executive officer and president of the Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc.

Q: What was the impetus for the Priority Male Initiative?

A: Throughout my career, I saw what young black males face. I was a caseworker with a United Way agency; a volunteer coordinator for an agency to service at-risk young males returning from the U.S. Job Corps; a senior investigator and mediator with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a mentor to a male in a juvenile detention center. There were existing programs for youth and teenagers; however, those from the ages of 18 to 28 were underserved. This realization refueled my desire to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth and young black males. In 2008, this vision was realized with the incorporation of the Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta as a nonprofit organization and the creation of the Priority Male Initiative.

Q: What is the Initiative’s selection process?

A: At-risk young men are offered the opportunity to apply for the program by submitting applications to the CCMA office and  website. Qualified applicants are interviewed. Those who exhibit the most need and readiness are selected.

Q: What makes the Initiative different from similar programs?

A: The Initiative provides resources that help young black men reach their potential — academically, vocationally, economically and personally. The goal is accomplished by focusing on these young men as individuals and structuring the program to help meet specific needs. Students are provided training in self management, goal setting, etiquette, their heritage, critical thinking, interpersonal relationships, fatherhood, conflict resolution, career development, financial literacy, communications skills, interviewing skills, vocational exploration, entrepreneurship and other life skills. They are assigned mentors and life-skill coaches for one year.

Q: Could this could be offered on a grander scale?

A: There is a documented need for services; more than 100 men applied for enrollment in the 2014 Institute. The problem is that we are not funded and cannot provide books, supplies, MARTA cards and lunch for more than 20 at any given time.

Q: How does this fit with the president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign?

A: “My Brother’s Keeper” fits in with what the CCMA has been doing for six years. The goal of My Brother’s Keeper is to help ensure boys and young men of color have opportunities to reach their full potential. This has been the goal of the Priority Male Initiative.

Q: Does your organization plan to embrace the president’s initiative?

A: Yes. We are in need of funding and resources to continue the current Initiative program and expand future programs. Until that time, we are seeking employment opportunities, MARTA cards and funding to enhance the 2014 sessions, including the fall program scheduled for September.  By helping young black males become productive and contributing members of our society, CCMA will enhance the socioeconomic status of the metropolitan Atlanta area and the country as a whole. Fewer than 8 percent of young black men have graduated from college, compared with 17 percent of white males. The unemployment rate for young black men is more than twice the rate for whites. More than 20 percent of young black men live in poverty, compared with 10 percent of white men. Black men are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Too many black males grow up without fathers or positive male role models.

Make “My Brother’s Keeper” Unnecessary

By Nathaniel A. Turner

On Feb. 27, President Barack Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper” — a campaign to “build ladders of opportunity for boys and young men of color,” he said at the time.

The initiative has its share of supporters and detractors. This time, however, the combatants are not just Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, CNN or Fox News. The faction cheering and jeering the loudest are African-Americans.

The fact African-Americans have opposing points of view about “My Brother’s Keeper” is a tremendous sign of growth. For too long, our community has been viewed homogeneously. There is even a well-known anecdote that makes fun of our so-called uniformity: “You know we all look alike.” Samuel L. Jackson was correct: We don’t all look alike.

“My Brother’s Keeper” has garnered evidence that, for us, this issue is no laughing matter. There is no consensus. All sides of the initiative present what they believe are facts to support their positions.

For some, the campaign is timely. For others, it’s too little, too late. Still for others, “My Brother’s Keeper” is historic, and for many, it’s inconsequential. Some say the campaign is disrespectful, while others deem it reverent. Every perspective is true.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche may have articulated it best when he said: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way and the only way, it does not exist.” His words are applicable to “My Brother’s Keeper.”

No presidential initiatives, laws or judicial decisions receive unanimous approval. African-American history is replete with examples of difficulty agreeing on major social and economic issues. There was discrepancy about whether to remain enslaved or revolt. There was the great debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Dubois. And the conflicting strategies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Rather than squabble about whose is the right, correct and/or only way, maybe we should do our part individually to make the “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign unnecessary. Instead of trying to validate personal intellectual, economic or social superiority, we should do what we can independently to make it passé.

Whether you are an advocate or adversary, we — individually and collectively — have the power and responsibility to care for, help, value and invest in the sons, brothers and future fathers of our community.

If both supporters and detractors give their unconditional, unremitting and altruistic best to build ladders of opportunity for boys and young men of color, those boys and young men who now have little to no opportunities may finally have ladders. Not only will that enable them to climb, but to ascend to unimaginable heights.

Nathanial A. Turner, a financial adviser and writer, lives in Indianapolis.

Teen fatherhood provided focus

By Clinton Boyd

The term “father” is more than a title. It is a responsibility, a moral obligation that extends beyond the ideals of paternal support. Public debates over what constitutes a responsible and wholesome father have been dominated by misguided logic that a father’s sole duty as a parent is primarily financial one. Current research debunks this myth, specifically within the black community.

Recent studies highlight  strong father-child involvement within the black community, regardless of the parents’ relationship status. These informative findings help to challenge many general views embodied by the American people claiming that black fathers are simply “deadbeats.” Despite unfortunate economic and social circumstances, black fathers are committed to the day-to-day role of parenting.

I admit I share a personal and professional attachment to this subject. At the age of 16, I was blessed with the birth of my daughter, A’mari Jha’ale Boyd, which is my only child to date. I say blessed because I believe her birth provided me with the focus, drive and determination that was lacking during my adolescent years. I have taken a great deal of pride in knowing I was responsible for someone else’s life.

There were naysayers who quickly placed me in the category of “deadbeat father” before giving me an opportunity to prove otherwise. Many people believed I would fail miserably as a parent due to my age.

Overcoming the obstacles of being a young father was a constant concern of mine during my high school and undergraduate careers. Nevertheless, I managed to navigate through parenthood by refusing to provide only the financial necessities. My parental techniques have always been grounded in the belief that children benefit more from socio-emotional support than financial resources. It’s become more concrete in my latter years.

I am now 25 and feel more confident than ever in my ability as a father. Though temporarily removed from the physical day-to-day pleasures of parenting due to my Ph.D. program, my presence is still felt in my daughter’s life. I video chat with her several times per week via FaceTime to help with homework, provide guidance and nurture her ambitions as she blossoms into an outstanding young lady. With encouragement, reassurance, support, nurturing and love, my daughter will become a productive adult.

I strongly believe a father who can say he has raised his child or children to think independently and rationally — regardless of the situation — deserves to call himself a great parent. Hopefully, when my daughter comes of age, I will be privileged enough to consider myself a great parent.

Clinton Boyd, a Chicago native, is a doctoral student specializing in race and urban studies at Georgia State University.

6 comments Add your comment


April 26th, 2014
7:48 am

Why don’t we spend the scarce resources on teaching the young black women to have enough self esteem to use birth control? This problem is not a problem of black men not having access to schooling or programs. This is a problem of young women–black, white and Hispanic, for that matter–who are willing to have unprotected sex with young men. Our society has started “glamorizing” these teen mothers. Also, there is a powerful, monetary incentive for unmarried women to have babies. This, we see young, unmarried women with four, five , or six babies. When they realize that the money from the government doesn’t go far–especially when the baby is a ten year old, or, an unrestrained teenager–it is too late. These “throwaway” kids have their own babies. We are now seeing fourth and fifth generations so fatherless children. As long as the financial incentive is there, this will not end. And please don’t come screeching back that this is not so. On the days when the Welfare Money is deposited, when the checks come in, these fathers who are never around, come knocking at the “baby mamas” doors to collect their due. The sooner society faces the cold, brutal facts, the sooner a solution will be found. Why should a young male work hard to better himself, when there is money for simply making babies? Follow the money.

Tameka Oghie

April 25th, 2014
12:15 pm

As a black female, I am concerned about the problems faced by young black males. Although it is late in coming, President Obam’a’s program is exactly what we need to bring attention to theses systematic problems. I realize that the political climate is not in alliance with most of the President’s program, but it is the right thing to do.

Geraldine Gambrell

April 25th, 2014
11:59 am

Mrs. Barnes has done a tremendous service for Black men at risk in helping them to achieve their full potential. I commend Mrs. Barnes for her dedication and commitment to this well deserve cause. I understand that she is not federally funded and using all of her available resources to make the Male Priority Institute a success. Kudos to the organization and Mrs. Barnes on her achievement. I pray that funding will follow so this program will continue and allow other young men in need attend.

Samuel Greene

April 24th, 2014
11:46 pm

The question of should we create a pathway for young at risk boys and young men of color should not have to be asked. It should be in fact the goal and desire of all Americans to see this happen. It is imperative that organizations such as community council of Metropolitan Atlanta with its Priority Male Initiative Program which seeks to give these at risk young men a chance to compete in this very real world is vitally needed and wanted do all it can to provide these young people with the life skills necessary to do so.
Life isn’t all ways fair and equally bountiful to all and those young people who have exhibited a desire and determination to make it in spite of the odds stacked against them , should be given every opportunity to become a thriving part of this great society we live in and contribute their talents and intellect to that end. There are young men in our midst who have ideas and strengths that go neglected and unfulfilled, and wasted because of circumstances beyond there control. It doesn’t have to be that way. These young people want to contribute, they want success and are willing to work to be a part of America’s success stories. Over 100 young men applied to be in this Spring’s program but 80 were unable to attend simply because of lack of funding.
Yet funds are allocated for new prison systems every day and the priorities are simply skewed in the wrong direction.
The young men accepted into the program come in with sagging pants but hungry minds, thankful and grateful that someone cares enough to share wisdom and knowledge that they were unable to find in schools that failed them, homes without fathers, and any number of other real reasons that are too many to list. Yet everyday they come to class, rain or shine, to listen to learn , determined to not become a statistic of a system stacked against them.
They work hard and with pride to complete assignments given , absorb the lessons and knowledge given to them from guest lecturers and business men, , state senators, national best selling authors, and others who volunteer their time and energy to say to these young people, ” Yes it is possible for you to live your dreams , reach your potential, be successful, and we will help you , if you help your selves.
I have listened to these guest speakers marvel at the high intelligence of these young men, as one man expounded on the wonders of physics, another on his ideas on developing a compu pen, or another one starting a company that creates games for people with disabilities.
I could go on and on with these same type stories of these “at risk” young men whose lives will be forever changed for the better because of the dream of Ms Barnes .
So thank you Atlanta Journal Constitution for and Rick Badie for putting forth question, and my answer is a resounding YES to what ever positive initiatives that can be brought to bear that will save lives and help to create a better world for us all.

Eva Louis

April 24th, 2014
10:20 pm

The initiative is dedicated to being a guiding light of mentorship to very deserving young men. I. Truly hope this article catches the eye of Tyler Perry or some of the other great humanitarian s in the Atlanta area Mr Greene and so many others cod continue to enhance these lives with the proper funding please support their efforts in anyway possible just contact Norma Barnes atccma

Reginald Arnold

April 24th, 2014
9:43 pm

I am personally familiar with the work of the Priority Male Institute and commend them for reaching out to young black males. Many people talk about the problem, but few are actually doing anything. Maybe “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will encourage more of them to become involved in this initiative. At least funds should be available.