It is no secret that Black men and boys in the United States continue to face tremendous obstacles. This remains true despite the presence of the nation’s first Black President, an African-American male.
There is perhaps no clearer evidence than monthly employment statistics that regularly expose the degree to which Black males are detached from economic opportunity.
There are other issues, ranging from mass imprisonment to chronic illnesses, which pose a threat to Black males to a far greater degree than their White peers. Yet, there is very little by way of focused policy interventions aimed at improving the quality of life for Black males. It is a fact that has not escaped the attention of the nation’s oldest Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Alpha, founded on December 4, 1906 on the campus of Cornell University, and boasting members such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor John Hope Franklin, Thurgood Marshall and others, has gone on record, calling on President Obama to launch a special initiative on Black men and boys. In a letter dated April 17 to President Obama, the General President of Alpha Phi Alpha, Herman Mason, Jr., points to the need for Presidential action. Mason notes “Mr. President, we are keenly aware of the challenges that face women and girls. However, we believe a focus must also be placed on men and boys.” He goes on to cite a 2006 Schott Foundation study that revealed only 35 percent of Black males graduated from high school in Chicago and 26 percent in New York City, and low college completion rates for those who do pursue higher education.
The Alphas are not alone in their focus on Black males. Just a few years ago, the Congressional Black Caucus, under the prodding of Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), launched the State of the African American Male (SAAM) initiative that explored the challenges facing Black men in communities represented by Caucus members. In the late 1980’s there were a number of state initiated Black male commissions that sought to define the challenges facing Black men and determine the appropriate policy responses to alleviate conditions identified as impacting their quality of life. These efforts and others helped raise awareness but many of the same conditions persist today that have been well documented over the years.
In his letter to the President, Mr. Mason, representing more than 200,000 Alpha men, said, “We strongly believe to adequately address the needs of men and boys on a national level, a White House Council on Men and Boys must be ordered. We are prepared to partner with the White House on this goal and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible to provide our ideas.”
The letter from Alpha Phi Alpha came just days before President Obama is set o mark his first 100 days in office, a symbolic milestone that has come to be used as a barometer of a President’s progress in setting an agenda. Much of Mr. Obama’s early efforts have focused on resuscitating the nation’s ailing economy as a global recession has taken its toll on all sectors. The push by Alpha Phi Alpha is significant given the degree to which Black men have been injured by the current recession and the fact that, to date, Black advocacy groups have placed few demands on the nation’s first Black president.
The latter has been a point of much “quiet” debate in some corners but will likely become a point of a more rigorous discussion in the months to come as the “novelty” of the Obama presidency wears off.
With all due respect, Alpha Phi Alpha, you and others are making note of the symptoms of a problem. I fail to see why there is a need for the federal government to tell us about a problem with our young Black males when it all seems pretty obvious to those who care to ponder the truth.
I recall a government report from the past which Daniel Patrick Moynehan delivered a prediction that was written on government letterhead with all due legitimacy. We all know that this particular report was not received too well by the targets of study. They chose to attack the messenger. Today that which Moynehan warned about has come to pass and then tripled.
Instead of going national and thus further away from the problem - I propose that we fine tune the microscope and look closer to home. This is where the problem resides. So much of the Black community's focus is spent on playing "gotcha" against those who critically inspect our flaws. Some people are contented that such an inspection has been neutralized by the fact that some elements of the popular adversary of Black folks are 'down in the mud with us'.
Thus the knowledge that "More Whites are on Welfare" or "More Whites use Crack" draws comfort that our condition is validated. It is the system that enforces upon us differently. Just don't talk about the greater violence of urban drug dealing and the volley seems to stand.
It is ironic that Alpha Phi Alpha, preceiving that they now have a "friend of Black interests" in the highest government office in the land, that they look toward this government official who reprents the entire United States to apply more structured focus to this issue. To Alpha Phi Alpha and other Black organizations the election of a Black president represents their crowning achievement. To some Blacks the EVIDENCE that Black people have advanced as a people should be seen in Barack Obama.
I argued for a long time that Black advancement should be measured at the periphery. In truth the presence of favorable elected officials while the conditons for young Black males continues to degrade should be used as further evidence that this is more of a political strategy that one that has been orchestrated and pursued in earnest for the advancement of our wellbeing and best interests. Clearly there has been a diversion from the core issues that impact our community. Those who "speak truth to power" are now "IN POWER" yet the problems persist.
This needs to be an open debate that is NOT focused upon 'what we have obtained' in the way of elected headcount along the way. This is but evidence of the POPULARITY of a given pathway.
What greater evidence of the need for a new strategy when a people have achieved favorable standing on paper via their political focus yet the reality that is present when they shift their eyes off of the paper up to the real world and it looks so drastically different from the model and the promises that built the image in our minds?
Superior to the question of "Have our PERMANENT INTERESTS been achieve?" is the question:
WERE WE PURSUING OUR PERMANENT INTERESTS OR SOMEONE ELSE'S ALL ALONG?