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It’s time to ask: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Casey Thomas | 3/10/2014, 8:02 a.m.
President Barack Obama last week made a historic announcement to address an issue that has systematically had a devastating impact ...
Casey Thomas

The Dallas Examiner

President Barack Obama last week made a historic announcement to address an issue that has systematically had a devastating impact on a segment of the population in this country. Through his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, funding will be made available to create opportunities for boys and young men of color. Through a commitment of $300 million, non-profits and foundations will provide support to programs that are designed specifically to reduce or eliminate disparities that affect these young men.

This was the first time during his presidency that Obama has directly addressed an issue that affects African Americans directly. We know what the statistics say. We know more Black men are going to jail or prison than any other ethnic group. We know there are more Black boys being suspended and expelled than other boys. We know that over 80 percent of Black boys in the fourth grade are not reading on grade level. However, we have to ask ourselves a question: What are we going to do about it?

Many people are not aware of the fact that right here in Dallas, there has been quite a bit of work to address this issue that affects Black boys. There was a seminar last year at Bill J. Priest Institute where a consortium of organizations and programs that work with young men of color held workshops and panel discussions on issues that affect Black boys directly and how to overcome some of the obstacles that stand in the way of becoming successful in life.

This event was well-promoted but the attendance was not high. As a matter of fact, other than the boys, most of those who attended were either mothers or men who are members of the organizations that sponsored the event. While the information was impactful and those who attended spoke from experience “on the ground,” those who needed to be there were not present.

While the president was able to shine a national spotlight on the issue with his speech, the solutions will have to come from local communities. As the initiative grows and expands, its greatest impact will be by providing resources to organizations that are already doing the work. Many non-profits could reach more young men if they were able to build their capacity.

Each year, there is a group of committed volunteers who organize the African American Male Academic Bowl. This event is held annually and it allows Black boys who have an interest in math, science, and social studies to shine by participating in a Jeopardy-style question and answer forum which is presented from a Black perspective.

This and many other efforts are under way to provide support and encouragement for Black boys here in Dallas. We have to be willing to look past our own backyard and help others who are less fortunate. There are many Black boys who are growing up not only without a father in their life, but without a positive Black male presence. It’s time that we take the time to assess how we treat one another, and answer the question, am I my brother’s keeper by honestly saying “Yes, I am.”