You know the expression, money talks and bull@*it walks. For years we have heard a lot of talk about the “Black male crisis,” and witnessed an endless stream of reports and analyses detailing the dire straits of young Black men. I have heard my share of B.S. over the years on this subject and actually spent five years with an organization whose leadership mastered it. An entire cottage industry has evolved around perpetuating a crisis with no intent to offer real solutions. More reports, more rhetoric and the problems persist. Now, it appears, at least in the nation’s largest city, that someone has grown tired of “business as usual” and is taking an extraordinary step to try to improve the quality of life and create opportunities for young men of color. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged $30 million of his own resources, to be matched by billionaire George Soros, on programs and services targeting young Black and Latino males. It is an unprecedented step and a dramatic detour from a public policy trail littered with clichéd initiatives.
There will be some who will dismiss the mayor’s largesse as a political stunt, claiming an ulterior motive on the part of the billionaire. Some of the mayor’s critics will cite his deficiencies in other areas, from schools and hiring in city government to unwarranted stop-and-frisk police searches. These issues and others persist, and won’t disappear simply because the mayor has cracked open his checkbook. This new initiative certainly doesn’t wipe the slate clean. It does, however, offer a real opportunity to make headway on a problem that successive mayoral administrations failed to confront and city leadership, in the public and private sectors, gave lip service. And for that, I give Mayor Bloomberg credit and deservedly so. He now has “skin in the game” and like other areas in which he has invested his political capital, you can rest assured that this new initiative will have his utmost attention. That’s a good thing.
Young men of color and Black males in particular are at the bottom of the human food chain in our society. They are consumed on a daily basis and their plight registers hardly a yawn from our political leadership. Were it not for family and friends, young Black men would rot away on our streets and in prisons, or be unceremoniously lowered in graves. They have no standing in our society and few allies outside their personal networks. In New York City the situation is deplorable, an exaggerated microcosm of our country. Whether it is high school dropout rates, unemployment or incarceration, young men of color in our nation’s largest city are footnotes, mere references that serve as data points to legitimize research funding. Hopefully, this new initiative will move us from the abstract to the applied, with practical measures that will improve access to educational and economic opportunities for Black men.
A recent report from the College Board, a review of research on postsecondary pathways for young men of color, identified the most likely destination for young Black men. The predicted likely outcomes: unemployment, incarceration or death. Even knowing the circumstances engulfing Black men, that forecast is a hard and bitter pill to swallow. By any measure, it is a situation that should be unacceptable and provoke an outcry. Yet, all we hear are crickets breaking the silence.
I had my doubts, and continue to do so, when the city of Newark, New Jersey was the recipient of a windfall from another media billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. What distinguishes the two gifts in my mind is that Mayor Bloomberg spent considerable time considering his options and trying to come to terms with what approaches might actually work to help young men of color before putting his money on the table. In other words, he has a plan. And while I continue to be suspicious of the motivations of the wealthy that jump in the political arena, Bloomberg’s dollars come at a time when the city and state is cash strapped and the federal government treasury is on lockdown.
In this instance, I am going to recuse myself from the chorus of speculation. I can put my policy differences with the mayor on hold for a minute to see if this works. For our sake, I hope it does.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.