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Objectors to Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper effort undermine initiative to help black boys, men

Melvin B. Miller | 6/11/2014, 4:09 p.m.
Several prominent blacks have voiced objections to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper effort to alleviate the problems facing black men ...
“I hear some big-time black dudes are trying to close us down ‘cause there’s no girls in this program.” Photo by Dan Drew

Thoughtful Americans have been concerned for some time about the challenging circumstances that confront black youth. The statistics are so severely adverse that President Barack Obama established a new remedial initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” to unite the government and the philanthropic community to develop strategies to secure opportunities for black boys and young men.

Obama’s first step was to appoint a task force to review the problems and publish a progress report in 90 days. That report was published on May 28, and it set forth problems that are unique to the young black male. One startling statistic is that their greatest life-threatening hazard is homicide, not accidents, disease or suicide. In 2011, black males accounted for 43 percent of all murder victims although they are only 6 percent of the population.

The homicide rate for black males, 10-24 years of age, was almost 18 times the rate for white males of the same age. While the homicide rate for young black girls and women is too high, the rate for black males is almost nine times higher.

Black men also do not fare well in encounters with the criminal justice system. They are six times more likely than white males to be imprisoned. According to a report of the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., one of every three black men is likely to be in jail or prison at some time in his life. This is true for one of every 18 black women.

All black children, both boys and girls, live under adverse social conditions. An estimated 25.8 percent of blacks live in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of whites. And about two-thirds of blacks live with only one parent. Usually the father is missing. While these conditions affect both genders, the consequences seem to be more damaging for boys.

The task force reviewed and recommended a number of proposals to assure that boys:

  1. Enter school ready to learn;
  2. Read at grade level by third grade;
  3. Graduate from high school ready for colleges and career;
  4. Complete postsecondary education or training;
  5. Successfully enter the workforce; and
  6. Reduce violence and be open to a second chance, if necessary.

Seven university-based research centers have already endorsed the task force report, including: Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory, the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education (U. Penn.), the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (San Diego State U.), the Morehouse Research Institute (Morehouse College), the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color (U. of Texas at Austin), the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male (Ohio State U.), and the UCLA Black Male Institute (UCLA, Los Angeles).

Surprisingly, a group of black men, including actor Danny Glover, have protested Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative because it does not include girls. How naïve. It makes no sense to vitiate the political strength of a program that has the potential of generating support from conservatives in Congress. It seems that some prominent blacks never learn from history.

In 1965, almost 50 years ago, Daniel P. Moynihan, who was then Assistant Secretary of Labor published “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” The purpose of the well-researched report was to demonstrate how racial discrimination had weakened the black family. The objective was to develop political support for programs to alleviate the economic disparities.

Unfortunately, black leaders attacked the report as defamatory because it asserted that the black illegitimacy rate, then only 23.6 percent, was eight times higher than the white rate. Political support for corrective government programs quickly dissolved. It seems that blacks are now about to repeat that historical strategic error.