In other words, broadening the horizons for our young men, giving them the tools that they need to succeed will require a sustained effort from all of us.
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 — Well, feel free to stand up –to help young boys at risk of dropping out of school.
Today it serves thousands of students in dozens of schools, as mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg, who’s here today, started a young man’s initiative for African-American and Latino boys because he understood that in order for America to compete, we need to make it easier for all our young people to do better in the classroom and find a job once they graduate.
A bipartisan group of mayors called Cities United has made this issue a priority in communities across the country. Senator Mike Lee, a leader of the Tea Party, has been working with Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from my home state of Illinois, to reduce disparities in our criminal justice system that have hit the African-American and Latino communities especially hard.
So I want to thank everybody who’s been doing incredible work, many of the people who are here today, including members of Congress, who, you know, have been focused on this and are moving the needle in their communities and around the country.
They understand that giving every young person who’s willing to work hard a shot at opportunity should not be a partisan issue. 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. And, you know, if I can if I can persuade, you know, Sharpton and O’Reilly to be in the same meeting– then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done, even if we don’t agree on everything, and that’s our focus.
While there may not be much of an appetite in Congress for sweeping new programs or major new initiatives right now, we all know we can’t wait. And so the good news is, folks in the private sector, who know how important boosting the achievement of young men of color is to this country, they are ready to step up.
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.
Many of these folks have been on the front lines in this fight for a long time. And what’s more, they’re joined by business leaders, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs who are stepping forward to support this effort as well.
And my administration is going to do its part. So, today, after my remarks are done, I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies and with local communities to implement proven solutions.
And part of what makes this initiative so promising is that we actually know what works, and we know when it works. What do I mean by that? Over the years, we have identified key moments in the life of a boy or a young man of color that will more often than not determine whether he succeeds or falls through the cracks.
We know this — we know the data. We know the statistics. And if we can focus on those key moments, those life-changing points in their lives, you can have a big impact, you can boost the odds for more of our kids.
First of all, we know that during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. And everybody knows, babies are sponges. They just soak that up.
A 30 million-word deficit is hard to make up. And if a black or Latino kid isn’t ready for kindergarten, he’s half as likely to finish middle school with strong academic and social skills. So, by giving more of our kids access to high-quality early education and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their children succeed, we can give more kids a better shot at the career they’re capable of and the life that will make us all better off.
So, that’s point number one right at the beginning. Point number two, if a child can’t read well by the time he’s in third grade, he’s four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than one who can. And if he happens to be poor, he’s six times less likely to graduate.
So, by boosting reading levels, we can help more of our kids make the grade, keep on advancing, reach that day that so many parents dream of until it comes close, and then you start tearing up. And that’s when they’re walking across the stage holding that high school diploma.
Number three, we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they are in ninth grade, they are twice as likely to drop out.
That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines, not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior, as opposed to bad behavior out of school.
We can make classes good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future.
And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong, in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.
Number four, we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he’s almost as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.
And that means then they’re more likely to be employable and to invest in their own families and to pass on a legacy of love and hope. And, finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be disconnected, not in school, not in working.
We have got to reconnect them. We have got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We have got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We have got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.
We can keep them from falling through the cracks and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life. In the discussion before we came in, General Powell talked about the fact that there are going to be some kids who just don’t have a family at home that is functional, no matter how hard we try.
But just an adult, any adult who’s paying attention can make a difference. Any adult who cares can make a difference.
Magic was talking about being in a school in Chicago and, rather than going to the school, he brought the school to the company, Allstate, that was doing the work, and, suddenly, just that one conversation meant these young men saw something different. A world opened up for them.
It doesn’t take that much, but it takes more than we’re doing now. And that’s what My Brother’s Keeper is all about, helping more of our younger people to stay on track, providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future, building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.
And when I say, by the way, building on what works, it means looking at the actual evidence of what works. There are a lot of programs out there that sound good, are well-intentioned, well-inspired, but they’re not actually having an impact.
We don’t have enough money or time or resources to invest in things that don’t work, so we have got to be pretty hard-headed about saying, if something’s not working, let’s stop doing it. Let’s do things that work.
And we shouldn’t care whether it was a Democratic program or a Republican program or a faith-based program or — if it works, we should support it. If it doesn’t, we shouldn’t, and all the time recognizing that my neighbor’s child is my child, that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.
So, in closing, let me just say this. None of this is going to be easy. This is not a one-year proposition. It’s not a two-year proposition. It’s going to take time. We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds.
And addressing these issues will have to be a two-way bargain, because no matter how much the community chips in, it’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.
And that’s why I want to close by speaking directly to the young men who are here today and all the boys and young men who are watching at home.
Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is, no excuses. Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help you provide the tools you need. We got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience.
That’s what we’re here for. But you have got responsibilities too. And I know you can meet the challenge, and many of you already are, if you make the effort. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.
It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’re going to have to set goals, and you’re going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you.
The world is tough out there, and there’s a lot of competition for jobs and college positions. And everybody has to work hard. But I know you guys can succeed. We got young men up here who are starting to make those good choices, because somebody stepped in and gave them a sense of how they might go about it.
And I know it can work because of men like Maurice Owens, who’s here today.
I want to tell Moe’s story just real quick. When Moe was 4 years old, he moved with his mom, Chavette (ph), from South Carolina to the Bronx. And his mom didn’t have a lot of money, and they lived in a tough neighborhood. Crime was high. A lot of young men ended up in jail or worse.
But she knew the importance of education. So she got Moe into the best elementary school that she could find. And, every morning, she put him on a bus. Every night, she welcomed him when he came home. She took the initiative. She eventually found a sponsorship program that allowed Moe to attend a good high school.
And while many of his friends got into trouble, some of it pretty serious, Moe just kept getting on the bus and kept working hard and reaching for something better. And he had some adults in his life who were willing to give him advice and help him along the way. And he ended up going to college and he ended up serving his country in the Air Force.
And today, Moe works in the White House, just two doors down from the Oval Office as the special assistant to my chief of staff. And –
And Moe never misses a chance to tell kids who grew up just like he did that if he can make it, they can, too. Moe and his mom are here today.
So, I want to thank them both for this incredible experience. Stand up, Moe, and show off your mom there. Good job, Moe.
So, Moe didn’t make excuses. His mom had high expectations.
America needs more citizens like Mo. We need more young men like Christian. We will beat the odds.
We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, a chance to reach their full potential, because if we do, if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated hard-working good citizens. Then, not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass the lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren. We’ll start a different cycle. And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come. So let’s get going.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.
WATCH President Obama’s Powerful Speech to Young Men of Color HERE! was originally published on blackamericaweb.com