Recently President Obama announced his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, aimed at helping young minority men – particularly African-Americans and Hispanics – overcome formidable challenges. He’s recruiting a number of prominent minority leaders to become part of this effort.
I commend this emphasis since the President, our first non-white Chief Executive, has much to offer, not only from the clout of his office but also from personal experience. In announcing his plans, Obama stated, “By almost any measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country, are boys and young men of color.”
Statistics would bear this out. On average, black and Hispanic boys trail young white boys markedly in reading skills by the time they reach the fourth grade. Each year, young blacks and Hispanics comprise approximately half of the nation’s murder victims. And collectively, blacks and Hispanics make up nearly 60 percent of the U.S. prison rolls, while their ethnic groups total only one-quarter of the general population.
My Brother’s Keeper sounds like a long-overdue idea. I’m wondering, however, what message the President and others plan to use for motivating these boys and young men to achieve better lives. I’m privileged to have several African-American men as friends, so I have some understanding of the challenges they’ve faced and overcome.
The President hasn’t asked me, but I have a few ideas for him and the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to offer the young men:
· Learn to read, and read to learn. Whether reading books, magazines, newspapers, or content on the Internet, there’s a limitless wealth of information and knowledge readily available to help in pursuing one’s dreams and aspirations.
· Take responsibility for your actions. If you’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, don’t expect anything good to happen. Life is a series of choices, and if you make the right choices, good things will follow. “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
· Don’t be a victim. Over the past few decades, someone decided it’s a good idea to blame failures on somebody else, rather than mustering the initiative to use failure as a teaching tool for learning how to succeed. I know many people who refused to be victims, regardless of their circumstances, and as a result have achieved much success.
· Young women are not sex toys. Too often young men of any ethnicity treat sex as mere recreation, failing to respect the young women they are with and value them as real people with real needs and real feelings. When the Bible talks about women being “the weaker vessel,” (1 Peter 3:7), it’s not a put-down. It’s no more demeaning than saying exquisite crystal or fine china is weaker than an iron skillet or sledgehammer.
· If you have sex and father a child, be a father to that child. Statistics tell us about three-fourths of black children are growing up in single-parent, female-led homes. Women are doing incredible jobs in trying to care for and nurture their children, but as in any endeavor, the job is much easier when there are two to share in the duties and responsibilities. As the Bible says, “Two are better than one, they have a good return for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). When God said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” I’m certain He was thinking the same about women.
· Don’t expect the world to do for you what you can – and should – do for yourself. An entitlement mentality has invaded our times, people looking to government and society to provide for their needs and wants. And then they become angry because their expectations aren’t met. Why wait for someone to do what’s in your capacity to do on your own? “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5).
· The path to success doesn’t pass only through pro sports and recording studios. Only an infinitesimal percentage of minority young men will even get a taste of the NFL, NBA, Major League baseball or entertainment world. Yet those that attain those levels often are built up as role models. Why not spotlight accomplished minority men in far more accessible professions – physicians and nurses, attorneys, entrepreneurs, business executives, retail managers, educators, tradesmen, engineers, scientists, and others? Dr. Ben Carson, who overcame extreme poverty to become a renowned neurosurgeon, is one glowing example. But of course, he’s politically conservative, so I suppose that would disqualify him from President Obama’s consideration.
We all have a unique purpose and design, given by God, and we each should pursue it. “For you created my inmost being…. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). I hope the President’s initiative can be a big step in pointing deserving young men toward discovering how they can achieve fulfilling, meaningful lives and careers – what God has intended for them all along.