Dear Mr. President:
Last week you announced an initiative designed to help young African American and Hispanic men overcome the barriers that are built into their circumstances. Those that are often the result of single parent upbringing, generational poverty, crime and the ever-increasing odds of an early death. You called the program My Brother’s Keeper.
There were a group of young black and brown brothers standing behind you, hearing your harrowing tale of drug abuse and juvenile delinquency. It was candid and straight from the heart; I’ll give you that.
But in my opinion, your initiative is without historical precedence. You mentioned your own single parent household to the gathering of politicians, philanthropists, and other audience members that included the parents of the late Trayvon Martin. You told the audience that the idea for the program came to you in the midst of the aftermath surrounding the 17-year-old Floridian’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman. But one would have thought a Federal mandate to abolish Stand Your Ground, and laws like it, would have been the obvious brainchild of a legislative office concerned with people getting away with murder or perhaps greater sentences for suppliers and transporters of illicit firearms into urban communities. Perhaps I’m throwing bolos instead of precise jabs on that one. But to me, the proliferation of firearms in urban communities, as well as legal loopholes that allow closet racists to get away with murder, are clear and present dangers to young men and women in black and brown communities. Maybe even a moratorium requiring police officers to wear video recording devices whenever interacting with the public would be nice as well.
But a man can only do what a man is allowed to do, right? Even the president has his limits.
“The plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society,” you said. “Groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions, groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations.”
According to your data, boys and young men of color, regardless of socio-economic background, are disproportionately at risk throughout the journey from their youngest years to college and career. For instance, large disparities remain in reading proficiency, with 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade – compared to 58 percent of white boys reading below proficiency levels. These young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year.
Some old folks say you can tell a lot about a statement by what is not said. Yes, it is a plain fact that there are many Americans who are consistently doing worse. There have been generations of Americans who are seeing fewer opportunities presented to them. But what is not being said? Institutional racism is the catalyst for that exclusion. Yet now we are to believe that some of these institutions can be used to help save our black and brown sons?
A New Presidential Task Force is being implemented and when you sign the Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, efforts will be made to determine what public and private efforts are working to help alleviate societal ills that prove successful. Okay, wait. So, you guys don’t know what actually works yet? I’m curious how much money will be wasted in this trial an error phase.
These individuals’ lives aren’t things to be experimented on, yet some of the language used in your breakdown of the initiative like, "develop, disseminate, and assess" are troublesome to me because, in my mind, they represent code words that are synonymous with waiting and figuring things out. These words lead me to believe black and brown boys will be used as guinea pigs of sorts.
One would have hoped there were already certain programs that have been successful nationwide that could be implemented at maximum speed. According to the fact sheet, the federal government will team up with foundations and business leaders will work with philanthropic organizations will work to create opportunities. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The California Endowment, The Ford Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Open Society Foundations, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and The Kapor Center for Social Impact are but a few of the organizations that are involved with you on this one, Mr. President. And while I am by no means scoffing at the over $150 million that has already been spent on the implementation of this program, nor the $200 million that is to be spent over the next five years, my concerns are for the well being of those black and brown boys this program is meant to help.
Also, forgive my pessimism, whenever large sums of money are pooled by federal mandate cronyism and kickbacks are certain to occur. My concern there is that grassroots organizations that have been slaving away to alleviate these problems for years will be left out while large organizations stuff their coffers. I hope I’m wrong.
I have a special interest here, because I was one of those young black boys from a single parent household, living in a hard inner city environment and attending a failing public school that suffered under the watch of a fiscally irresponsible Board of Education. Like you, I was disenfranchised and aimless at one time or another Mr. President. Other than basketball, the thing that kept my head focused was writing and I have been able to milk that craft to the point where I am less of a slave to the economy as others. No, I’m not balling at all, Mr. President. However, because I have a marketable skill, my income is determined by my own drive, to a large extent. Where are the programs that teach these gentlemen how to start their own business or develop a skill? Having an indispensible skill or trade is one of the best ways for a young man to avoid many of the statistical pitfalls mentioned in this piece, like I did.
While owning a successful business not only is a great economic insulator, the proper implementation of said business means that not only would these black and brown boys be able to feed themselves, but others who look like them as well.
Where are the provisions to secure after-school educational and recreational facilities in traditional disenfranchised and crime-ridden communities? From my own experience, young men in these neighborhoods become mischievous in their early teens in communities where there are very few positive outlets for their energy. Recreation and mentorship programs are things that have worked in the past in many instances. I practically lived at the YMCA and the CYO as a child. It kept me out of tons of trouble.
Mr. President, for years African Americans have challenged your seemingly indifferent stance on matters of importance in the black community. Hispanic communities have echoed these concerns as well. You have said on more than one occasion that you are the President of the United States and all of her people, and I can certainly respect that stance.
With My Brother's Keeper being your first program created specifically for the betterment of young black and brown men, I find myself split between optimism and cynicism. I understand that your intentions are genuine and pure, but the endgame is so obscure that I fear the final result will be more big government bureaucracy that will lead to an eventual defunding down the line. And who wins then?