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White House Council on Men and Boys: The right thing to do

By Carey Roberts
web posted May 4, 2009

One of the greatest failings of the Great Society programs of the 1960s was the devastating blow they dealt to low-income African-American families. And it's no secret how all this happened.

Thanks to President Johnson's signature legislation, newly-minted social welfare programs provided an array of services and benefits that were designed to help single moms. But these programs proved to afford powerful incentives for women to become pregnant, and then make sure the dad didn't hang around too long.

The effects were devastating as they were dramatic. Within three decades the number of Black families with fathers and mothers at home plummeted from four-fifths to only 38%.

Of course boys raised by mothers are more likely to suffer from a raft of behavioral problems, drop out of school, and get in trouble with the law. Rather than becoming in-laws, they turn into outlaws. And the well-intended Great Society effort ended up worsening the cycle of poverty that it was intended to relieve.

Ironically, passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 1996 wreaked even more havoc with Black families. That's because the law ratcheted up child support enforcement. As a result, millions of low-income men with no prospect of meeting their child support obligations suddenly found themselves behind bars, now stigmatized as "dead-beats" and alienated further from their families.

Last week a letter was sent to President Obama, urging him to establish a White House Council on Men and Boys. The plea came from Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity boasting a membership of 200,000 African-American men.

The APA letter highlights a report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education that found only 26% of black male students in New York City graduate from high school. Nationally, only 22% of Black men who enter college end up getting their degree.

Life expectancy figures paint a similarly dismal picture: White females live to the ripe age of 81 years on average, while Black men die 11 years sooner.

One would expect President Obama will rush to support the proposal. After all, fully 95% of Black men voted for him in last November's presidential election. And surely he empathized with the plight of all the listless boys and unemployed men he encountered as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side.

First Lady Michelle should enthusiastically endorse the move, as well. As a child she adored her father, Fraser Robinson. Even after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Mr. Robinson continued to work – a fact that may have contributed to his premature death at 56 years of age. During one interview, Mrs. Obama movingly recounted how "he never missed a day of work, never talked about being sick."

Surely both Barack and Michelle desire that their daughters will one day be courted by marriage-able men. If we're going to have a White House on Women and Girls, it's only fair that we extend the same courtesy to men and boys.

And liberal feminists, often portrayed as a self-serving interest group, should support the measure as well to prove they really do care about equal opportunities for both men and women.

"With liberty and justice for all" for African-American men and boys – that's the message of hope that conservatives and liberals alike should send to the White House.

It only seems fair. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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