Monday, March 10, 2014

But is it enough...

By Charles Brooks

Just a few days ago, President Obama announced his new My Brother’s Keeper initiative designed for young African-American and Latino young men although it’s billed for “young men of color”. Nevertheless, President Obama told the nation, “Today, I'm pleased to announce that some of the most forward-looking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years, on top of the $150 million that they have already invested, to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country.”

If you listen closely to the president’s remarks, you get some sense to his thinking that appeared to reflect his focus – that is less on structural barriers and more on personal responsibility. For example, when the president touched on why he’s taking on this new initiative, he said, “This is an issue of national importance. This is as important as any issue that I work on. It's an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for president,” President Obama continues, “Because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody. The notion that no matter who you are or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country.” Powerful words indeed, many would agree.

But this notion of personal responsibility clearly contradicts the high profile shooting deaths of two unarmed African-American young men – Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis – both killed as their  perpetuators found protection from notorious stand your ground laws. Let’s consider these remarks by the president: “And in this effort, government cannot play the only or even the primary role. We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can't replace the power of a parent who's reading to that child.” The President continues, “We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it's not infected with bias. But nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son's life. Parents will have to parent and turn off the television and help with homework. Teachers will need to do their part to make sure our kids don't fall behind and that we're setting high expectations for those children and not giving up on them.”

The president appears to acknowledge the larger issues with one hand and yet dismisses the notion with a wave of the other hand. Taken further, the president makes a clear distinction to what the government can and cannot do - both of which are equally troubling. The president asserted, “Yes, we need to train our workers, invest in our schools, make college more affordable, and government has a role to play, and, yes, we need to encourage fathers to stick around and remove the barriers to marriage and talk openly about things like responsibility and faith and community. In the words of Dr. King, it is not either/or. It is both/and.”

Well, the president’s new initiative has faced criticism from both the left and the right. From the right, there’s a shot from conservative Roger Clegg who rejected the initiative as a “government sponsored discrimination” and “just another kind of profiling.” From the left, Michael D. Shear wrote in the New York Times, “Thursday’s announcement is unlikely to satisfy Mr. Obama’s most vocal critics in the black population, who have accused him of forgetting his roots.”

Yet there appears to be legitimate concerns here – for example, according to the New York Times , Gail C. Christopher, vice president for program strategy for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which has committed $750,000 to My Brother’s Keeper initiative, said the initial money would be used for hiring staff, consultants and firms “to get something established that has legs.” But more money will be needed for the initiative to have an impact, Ms. Christopher said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a drop in the ocean of money that will be needed to transform the opportunity structures in our society.” In The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith raises the issue of excluding young women, The Guardian looks at the $200 million over a five year period - $40 million a year – and asks if this sufficient to really address issue – sounds like a legitimate issue to me. In the Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie penned his doubts and questions if there’s enough steam, or American will to move this initiative forward to success. These are legitimate and valid issues that should be raised - if only they could be heard over the heavy sigh of relief breathed by the president’s supporters who whispered, “finally…the first black president doing something for black people.” But is it enough…

No comments:

Post a Comment