It is nice on this side of the aisle to be able to support an initiative of the President without reservation. The launching of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative the other day to encourage minority children to aim higher in life was a marvelous event and the President said some really admirable things.
Among his comments were these:
I made bad choices. I got high, not always thinking about the harm it would do. I did not always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.
If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking good citizens then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country but they will pass those lessons on to their children and their grandchildren.
There is no room for the slightest quibble on this message. As long as this program really encourages those virtues with financial and moral support it should have our backing.
Back in the 1990s I owned some rental properties in Cincinnati and most of my tenants were black or Hispanic. I encountered so many bright, good-looking, articulate kids who could have had unlimited access to the American Dream. Some of them did quite well in school for a time. Yet inevitably they would lose interest after a while, trying to imitate the behaviors practiced by ‘cooler’ kids.
There were no fathers around to give them a role model and often the mothers themselves did not promote the value of education. I was a total outsider, the guy who came to collect the rent, and I desperately tried to get these youngsters to understand the stakes. They looked at me as a guy who just does not get it, and I was forced to shrug my shoulders and walk away. This trauma of seeing valuable lives being frittered away eventually forced me to give up that source of income.
The announcement of all sorts of scholarship grants from foundations is fine, but in truth there has not been a single black or Hispanic child in this country in the last forty years who could not go to college because of lack of funds. There have been billions in scholarships in place and there have been recruiters begging these young people to fill the slots. The main bar to achievement has been environment, where the culture they looked up to did not point to the collegiate path as the yellow brick road.
Over the years, some well placed individuals have managed to make a difference. Bill Cosby made sure his sitcom family in the 1980s had a doctor and a lawyer as parents, and the characters never referred to themselves or each other as black. Without a doubt the show had a significant cultural impact in the years from 1984 through 1992, when it was the gold standard of American television entertainment. Although Henry Louis Gates, among other victimhood cheerleaders, criticized the show for being unrealistic, it generated a lot of cultural energy that in turn made such families more realistic.
But perversely a backlash of sorts developed after the show was off the air and Cosby tried to play a public role as a booster of math and science education. He was shouted down by voices more adept at manipulating the political levers of government and media. Shortly after that, when rap and hip-hop replaced soul and jazz it did nothing to help build a sense of responsibility and fatherhood.
I know that young blacks and Hispanics will not listen to my lectures. First of all I tried that already and secondly I’m lucky if my own kids will follow my advice. Clearly high achievers like President Obama and General Colin Powell and Dr. Ben Carson are in a unique position to get their message across. We wish them the greatest success.
Naturally the Democrats managed to corrupt the process by doing tactless political moves like inviting the parents of Trayvon Martin to this event. Still, today is not a day for picking on the flaws, only for seeing the virtues. We applaud all the donors and the volunteers and we pray their efforts lead to success and blessing for our society.