Crisis Facing Young Blacks Holds Back America

Monday, 23 Aug 2010 06:03 PM

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Bob Herbert’s weekend New York Times opinion column titled “Too Long Ignored” has been on my mind. The editorial was devoted to “a tragic crisis of enormous magnitude (that) is facing black boys and men in America.”

Herbert reported on a litany of factors: “parental neglect, racial discrimination, and an orgy of self-destructive behavior.”

He wrote: “The Schott Foundation for Public Education tells us in a new report that the on-time high school graduation rate for black males in 2008 was an abysmal 47 percent, and even worse in several major urban areas — for example, 28 percent in New York City.”

“More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers.”

“Black men . . . have nearly a one-third chance of being incarcerated at some point in their lives.”

“Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men . . . in most cases inflicted by other young black men.”

“More than a third of all black children are growing up in poverty” . . . and “a lack of gainful employment has been a huge contributor to the problems faced by blacks” impacting on “marriage and family stability.”

Another horrific statistic that I would add to this litany, as reported by the New York City Police Department this year, is that “Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter victims are most frequently Black (67 percent) or Hispanic (28.1 percent).”

Furthermore, “the race/ethnicity of known Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter suspects mirrors the victim population with Black (65.3 percent) and Hispanic (30.6 percent) suspects accounting for the majority of suspects.”

These overwhelming problems have to be a top priority not only for the black and Hispanic communities, but for all Americans. If we don’t solve these problems together, we will lose the positive involvement of 13 percent of our citizens for decades to come.

I have two suggestions on what should be done immediately.

The first is on employment. Employers generally ask perspective employees if they have ever been convicted of a crime. Those who have and respond truthfully have little chance of being hired.

In 1995, I proposed to the Albany legislature that it allow non-violent offenders to respond “no” to that question after they have served their time in prison and fulfilled certain conditions after release, such as getting their GED. They could then apply to the court to have their criminal files closed and expunged.

Reverend Al Sharpton and Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree joined me early on as co-supporters. The bill has lingered in the legislature for 15 years, having passed the Assembly twice but never passing in the Senate.

Isn’t it time to provide a second chance for those who have served their time? Not being able to get a job or have an income makes it very difficult to marry and have the stability of a family.

Concerning education, I proposed more than 20 years ago that the federal government open a number of regional, away-from-home high schools (prep schools) and pay all costs involved, including living expenses for the children.

The purpose would be to remove them from their current slum environment. The schools would be open to children of all ethnicities and races living below the poverty line.

Why not test to see if poverty is the overriding obstacle to the intellectual growth of children? We don’t have time to linger, as we have for so many years, while millions of our children are lost to crime and drugs.


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