Reflecting this Father’s Day on America’s Black Men
By Linda Harris
At some point in their lives, most men will become a father. It's a point I've been thinking a lot about lately as a youth policy expert and as families across America get ready to celebrate Father's Day and how fathers contribute to not just our families, but our communities and our country. They teach life lessons to their kids and are caring partners to their spouses. They are valued community members who contribute to our political system and help decide the future of our country with their votes. Their work helps put food on the table and their taxes pay for paved roads and clean water. They help keep our economic engine running, strengthening our global position - and their service helps keep our borders safe.
And yet there are millions of strong, good black fathers who continue to struggle with a perilous labor market and gaps in earnings and education. The unfortunate reality, especially after the Great Recession, is that many men in the black community are stymied in their ability to contribute their full potential. Much has been said and written on why disparities exist, and we could discuss at length how generational poverty, stereotypes and outright racism contribute to a lack of opportunity for black men as workers and providers for their families. These facts get played out time and again in new data, including the monthly unemployment numbers, which in May showed that the unemployment rate of black men was twice that of white men.
It's worth taking a moment this Father's Day to reflect on the reality of so many black men's experience. More importantly, though, we should look forward to a new vision for young men and the fathers they are and will become.
Two years ago, CLASP and 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys released We Dream a World: the 2025 Vision for Black Men and Boys, which presents a collective vision of black fathers for a future teeming with opportunity and hope for the sons that are just beginning to traverse the landscape from youth to adulthood. It also set forth the policy solutions needed to reach this goal.
This vision calls for instituting policies and practices for quality education interventions that will empower young black men to be economically productive and enable them to improve the quality of life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
It calls for solutions that support the health and well-being of young black men and that ensure justice, equality, due process, and an end to policies and practices that lead to the disproportionate entrapment of young black men in the criminal justice system.
It advocates for supports that value and enhance the role of black fathers in fragile families and calls for building pathways to re-engage young men who have disconnected from education and work back to labor market opportunities.
This is a wholesome vision for all of America - one which should be easily embraced by policymakers who want to see a better country and stronger families. Yet in 2012, in a political environment of fiscal austerity, limits on discretionary spending at all levels of government, and personal responsibility mantras, the notion of investing in solidifying the future for a generation of young black men has difficulty gaining constituency.
That's why communities are central to building the momentum we need for the interventions and investments We Dream a World calls for. There's already a lot of good work happening on the ground. In Kansas City, for example, Project Rise, which is supported in part through the Social Innovation Fund, is designed to improve the long-term economic opportunities of young adults who are out of school, out of work, and who lack a high school diploma or GED and read between 6th and 8th grade levels. Graduates of the program are then connected to postsecondary, trade and technical school scholarships.
These kinds of initiatives make a real difference in the lives of boys and young men, and they help shape the adults they will grow into. As we salute fathers on Father's Day, we also salute the many strong black men, advocates, and policymakers who are working hard to expand supports for vulnerable boys and young men and to extend the horizons of black male achievement. It's time now that we do all we can to expand this important work and make the federal and state investments needed to truly make a difference for black men and boys in America.