By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Fulfilling another one of his campaign promises, President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled a new initiative aimed at providing opportunities for black and Latino youth.
The initiative, called My Brother’s Keeper, will address an undeniable fact: black and Latino boys don’t fare as well as their white counterparts. According to January 2014 figures, the black unemployment rate for men over 20 was 12 percent compared with 5.4 percent for white men. For Hispanics in the same cohort, it’s 8.2 percent. Additionally, the poverty rate for black households in 2012 was 27.2 percent and for Hispanic households, it’s 25.6 percent, compared to 12.7 percent in white households and 11.7 percent in Asian households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Hartford, the figures are slightly higher than the national averages in each category. The black unemployment rate for black and Latino men are 14.1 and 13 percent respectively. The poverty rate is 32 percent.
Flanked by young men from Chicago’s “Becoming a Man” program in the East Room of the White House, Obama addressed a group of leaders in businesses, nonprofits and foundations. And, as he quipped, he was able to get Al Sharpton and Bill O’Reilly in the same room for what he deemed a necessary step toward economic prosperity in America.
“If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren.”
Under the president’s initiative, the Obama administration will create a government-wide task force to evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs and businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate investments to support new or existing programs to help steer young men from the criminal justice system and improve access to college and other opportunities. Already, several foundations have pledged about $200 million over five years to promote the initiative.
Mayor Pedro Segarra points to a local program aimed at addressing these issues.
“I applaud the President’s leadership, both as an elected official and personally as man of color who benefitted from the type of programs he is promoting. Nearly 1 in 4 Hartford residents aged 16-24 are high school dropouts, more than 90 percent of them are Latino or Black, and 53% of them are male. As the President said, we’ve begun to assume statistics like these are an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrages they are.”
Segarra points to the Summer Youth Employment Program and said that more needs to be done.
“The ability of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to assess and promote the programs most effective in combating these numbers is the sort of ambitious solution that we as a city could never carry out alone,” he said. “Because young men of color are an important part of our future workforce, these steps aren’t just the right thing to do—they’re an economic necessity.”
Among the guests in the room were former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old who was killed by a Florida man, were also present. Also present were the parents of Jordan Davis, another Florida teenager killed in a separate shooting.
The phrase “my brother’s keeper” comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible, where God asks Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, for his brother Abel, whom Cain had killed because he envied Abel’s gift to God. Cain then replies: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Obama has quoted that section several times since his 2009 campaign at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt., saying Americans should eschew “you’re-on-your-own economics” and instead look out for each other.
“I hear politicians talking about values…,” he had said then. “ Let me tell you about values. Hard work, personal responsibility—those are values. But looking out for one another. That’s a value. The idea that we’re all in this together. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. That’s a value.”
“The president, I think, is uniquely qualified to talk about this,” Bloomberg said to reporters after the event. “The president is part African-American. The president did not have a father growing up. He knows the problem and yet he turned out to be president of the United States. You can’t have a better role model. I think this is exactly the kind of thing he should focus on.”