COMMENTARY: Obama’s Greatest Legacy – Saving Young Black Men

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Perhaps Obama conjured the wisdom of Ralph Ellison, the noted black writer who became famous for his book “Invisible Man” and the powerful first line: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Today, 62 years after Ellison penned those profound words, Obama, the nation’s first black president, desperately wants America to see young black men through his eyes: as productive members of our society. The president is using his White House bully pulpit to acknowledge that America has systematically disregarded young men of color, and particularly black men.

For decades, Obama aides said, opportunity has lagged behind for boys and young men of color.  Young boys of color are disproportionately expelled from public schools, disproportionately locked up in America’s prisons and disproportionately refused jobs by employers who prefer to hire white workers. Among the challenges faced by the “My Brother’s Keeper” program: The jobless rate for black men older than 20 in January was 12%, compared with 6.6% for the nation as a whole.

There are more sobering statistics according to White House aides. 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. Additionally, the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic young men who are unemployed or involved in the criminal justice system alone is a perilous drag on state budgets, and undermines family and community stability.

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.   On Thursday, Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, an inter-agency effort, chaired by the Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, that will help determine what public and private efforts are working.

White House officials said the foundations supporting the initiative have already made extensive investments, including $150 million in current spending that they have already approved or awarded. On Thursday, the foundations announced that over the next five years they will invest at least $200 million to assist with job creation, early child development, parenting and parent engagement, 3rd grade literacy, educational opportunity and school discipline reform, and interactions with the criminal justice system.

“The challenges these young men face are of personal importance to him,” Jarrett said of Obama. “This is an initiative the president has been involved in every step along the way and he and the First Lady will remain active until the end of his presidency.”

This, in my view, is perhaps the president’s greatest legacy.

What do you think?

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