It is no secret that Black men and boys in the United States continue to face tremendous obstacles. This remains true despite the presence of the nation’s first Black President, an African-American male. There is perhaps no clearer evidence than monthly employment statistics that regularly expose the degree to which Black males are detached from economic opportunity. There are other issues, ranging from mass imprisonment to chronic illnesses, which pose a threat to Black males to a far greater degree than their white peers. Yet, there is very little by way of focused policy interventions aimed at improving the quality of life for Black males. It is a fact that has not escaped the attention of the nation’s oldest Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Alpha, founded on December 4, 1906 on the campus of Cornell University, and boasting members such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor John Hope Franklin, Thurgood Marshall and others, has gone on record, calling on President Obama to launch a special initiative on Black men and boys. In a letter dated April 17 to President Obama, the General President of Alpha Phi Alpha, Herman Mason, Jr., points to the need for presidential action. Mason notes “Mr. President, we are keenly aware of the challenges that face women and girls. However, we believe a focus must also be placed on men and boys.” He goes on to cite a 2006 Schott Foundation study that revealed only 35 percent of Black males graduated from high school in Chicago and 26 percent in New York City, and low college completion rates for those who do pursue higher education.
The Alphas are not alone in their focus on Black males. Just a few years ago, the Congressional Black Caucus, under the prodding of Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), launched the State of the African American Male (SAAM) initiative that explored the challenges facing Black men in communities represented by Caucus members. In the late 1980’s there were a number of state initiated Black male commissions that sought to define the challenges facing Black men and determine the appropriate policy responses to alleviate conditions identified as impacting their quality of life. These efforts and others helped raise awareness but many of the same conditions persist today that have been well documented over the years.
In his letter to the President, Mr. Mason, representing more than 200,000 Alpha men, said, “We strongly believe to adequately address the needs of men and boys on a national level, a White House Council on Men and Boys must be ordered. We are prepared to partner with the White House on this goal and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible to provide our ideas.”
The letter from Alpha Phi Alpha came just days before President Obama is set o mark his first 100 days in office, a symbolic milestone that has come to be used as a barometer of a President’s progress in setting an agenda. Much of Mr. Obama’s early efforts have focused on resuscitating the nation’s ailing economy as a global recession has taken its toll on all sectors. The push by Alpha Phi Alpha is significant given the degree to which Black men have been injured by the current recession and the fact that, to date, Black advocacy groups have placed few demands on the nation’s first Black president. The latter has been a point of much “quiet” debate in some corners but will likely become a point of a more rigorous discussion in the months to come as the “novelty” of the Obama presidency wears off. As labor market data shows that Black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by this recession, the Obama administration will likely be the target of multiple appeals to fashion specific policy remedies. In its annual “State of Black America” publication, the National Urban League earlier outlined an agenda for President Obama that also seeks to elevate the concerns of Black Americans in the national policy debate.