Pharos-Tribune

March 5, 2014

PARKER: Obama's best hope for change


Pharos-Tribune

---- — President Obama’s new outreach initiative to help at-risk boys of color — “My Brother’s Keeper” — is cause for cheer.

It isn’t that we haven’t known for some time that minority boys are in trouble. Poor school performance, truancy, delinquency and, ultimately, high incarceration rates cannot be separated from the absence of fathers in many homes. Out-of-wedlock births are now at 72 percent in the African-American community and 53 percent among Latinos, compared to 29 percent among non-Hispanic whites.

But sometimes things can change only when the right messenger comes along. Obama is that man, though he seems to have realized it late in his game. Or perhaps he feared criticism for focusing on the black half of himself and waited for a second term.

Whatever brought him here, he may as well be reading from an old text — the 1965 Moynihan Report, when then-Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan first sounded the alarm about family disintegration and fatherlessness in the black community.

Wrote Moynihan the following year: “A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Moynihan was clobbered by civil rights leaders who felt that other concerns — school integration, voting rights and the end of Jim Crow laws — were more crucial to black ascendance than family organization. But today, with an African-American in the highest office, we can afford to take another look. It would seem that Moynihan had a point — and back then the out-of-wedlock birthrate among African-Americans was just 25 percent.

Whatever one’s politics, this is great news for the country. A nation can’t long flourish without the commitment of fathers to raise their sons — and, yes, their daughters, too.

Announcing $200 million in private funding for the initiative whereby businesses will connect young men with mentors, the president spoke about his personal history as a young son growing up without a father. This first-person connection is Obama’s most powerful weapon in encouraging two-parent homes, as well as highlighting societal trends that have minimized the importance of men and the need for role models to teach boys how to be men. Who better than the president of the United States? Well, of course, a father, but meanwhile ...

In minority communities, fathers became scarcer in part owing to a welfare program that was predicated upon no man in the house. It would not take long before marriage and fathers made little economic sense to many mothers. Three generations later, two-parent families have become a quaint memory.

The uniqueness of Obama’s outreach isn’t only that he is a man of color and has shared the sorrow of having to imagine his father’s dreams but that he is inoculated from criticisms that might have been raised against another type of politician. This is gratifying progress and marks a victory of common sense over ideology.