President Obama unveiled a program called “My Brother’s Keeper” last week. The purpose of this initiative was to address the plight faced by young African-American and Latino men by fostering support programs that help keep young people out of the criminal justice system and improve their access to higher education. In unveiling the initiative, Obama stated he hoped this would “start a new cycle.”
Of course, the cycle for many young African-American men is not a virtuous one at all. The unemployment gap between them and their white counterparts is staggering — unemployment for African-American men between 16 and 24 years old is 30.5 percent. That is twice the unemployment rate for white males in the same age group. Additionally, African-American males are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and less likely to graduate from college.
Reaction to the announcement has been wide-ranging. There has been praise, there has been criticism that the program does not go far enough or that it is long overdue, and — unfortunately — some conservatives have stated that the president should not be supporting an initiative that focuses on some ethnic groups and not on others. Tavis Smiley said it best in an article he wrote for USA Today entitled “Address hardship facing boys of color.” He stated that too often, we “frame everything as a yes/no, for/against, left/right construct,” and, “time out for political correctness, this is a matter of life and death.”
To be clear, the president deserves praise because he is using the influence of the Oval Office to raise awareness of the plight faced by African-American and Latino youth. Per Smiley’s piece, this truly is a matter of life and death. An entire generation of our young men is at risk, and that has implications on this and future generations. Those implications do not just fall on people of color. All of society suffers when these young men do not have the tools and opportunity to reach their maximum potential. Since birth rates are higher in minority communities than in white communities, these young men are literally the future of this nation.
This is not just a minority-community crisis.
I used the word “unfortunate” to discuss the reaction of some conservatives to this announcement. I used this word because conservatives need to participate in this discussion, not discount it. Just as with any crisis that is a matter of “life and death,” we need all points of view participating and debating on solutions to the problem. We need people like Tavis Smiley advocating for more resources in inner cities, and we need people like Bill O’Reilly advocating for a check on an entertainment industry that feeds on strong negative influences and perpetuation of stereotypes. We need Attorney General Eric Holder’s view that the criminal justice system is presently unfair, and we need the view of Robert Doar, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and author of the Wall Street Journal opinion piece “The Path to Responsibility Can Start With a Broom and a Paycheck.”
It is through such discourse that our society can come up with real solutions to the plight faced by young men of color. All conservatives must recognize this and take a seat at the table.
Hughey Newsome, a member of the National Advisory Council of the Project 21 Black leadership network, is a private-sector business consultant in the Washington, D.C., area.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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