By George E. Curry
More than 200 African American men, ranging from a taxi driver to university professors, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to expand his Black male initiative to include Black girls and women, saying they were “surprised and disappointed” that the president had sought to include only half of the race to tackle community-wide issues.
After praising the president for saying that addressing the needs of those left behind is as important as anything else he is undertaking, authors of the letter wrote, “So we were surprised and disappointed that your commitments express empathy to only half of our community – men and boys of color. Simply put, as Black men we cannot afford to turn away from the very sense of a shared fate that has been vital to our quest for racial equality across the course of American history.”
The letter continued, “As African Americans, and as a nation, we have to be as concerned about the experiences of single Black women who raise their kids on sub-poverty wages as we are about the disproportionate number of Black men who are incarcerated. We must care as much about Black women who are the victims of gender violence as we do about Black boys caught up in the drug trade.”
The 893-word letter maintained a respectful, dignified tone throughout, but was consistently firm in asserting that President Obama had erred in limiting his initiative to Black males.
“We write as African American men who have supported your presidency, stood behind you when the inevitable racist challenges to your authority have emerged, and have understood that our hopes would be tempered by the political realities that you would encounter,” the letter stated. “While we continue to support your presidency, we write both out of a sense of mutual respect and personal responsibility to address what we believe to be the unfortunate missteps in the My Brothers Keeper initiative (MBK). In short, in lifting up only the challenges that face males of color, MBK – in the absence of any comparable initiative for females – forces us to ask where the complex lives of Black women and Black girls fit into the White House’s vision of racial justice?”
On Feb. 27, President Obama announced his “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, a program to assist young Black males. With the parents of slain Florida teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis looking on, Obama said: “After months of conversation with a wide range of people, we’ve pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, nonprofits, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success. And we’re committed to building on what works. And we call it ‘My Brother’s Keeper.’”