48 Years Later, the Nation Can't Ignore the Urgency of the Moment

Jan 14, 2011

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  said "It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment." These words have profound meaning in 2011.

The sobering reality is that 43 years after Dr. King's assassination, gross disparities persist for African Americans in nearly every aspect of American life. On Jan. 12, community leaders from across the nation met in Washington D.C. to discuss how to make addressing disproportionately high unemployment and incarceration rates and gaps in earnings and education for black men and boys a top national and state policy priority. CLASP hosted the meeting along with the 2025 Campaign for Black Men and Boys, as part of CLASP's 40th anniversary policy series, Policy and Promise for Low-Income People in America.

"Every day we're losing a generation of young people," said keynote speaker Dr. James L. Moore, III. "But do we have the will to change?"

Hundreds of stakeholders from the social, political and advocacy arenas attended the meeting to discuss advancing an ambitious national agenda presented in the new report, We Dream a World: The 2025 Vision for Black Men and Boys.  The report identifies concrete policy solutions to ensure workforce success, raise educational achievement, reduce health disparities, improve conditions for low-income fathers and improve the overall well being of black men, their families and communities.

Currently, less than half of black male students graduate from high school on time and only 11 percent complete a bachelor's degree. According to the latest Bureau of Labor statistics, the unemployment rate for black men is 16.5 percent, nearly double the 8.5 percent rate for their white counterparts. And among black males with a bachelor's degree, only 43 percent have a job that pays at least $14.51 per hour, or enough to put them significantly above the federal poverty level if they have to support a family of four.

Policies targeted at improving outcomes for black youth are especially critical. Young males of color need supports that are both robust and culturally relevant, including pathways to education and the labor market for youth who have disconnected from the mainstream.  Coordinating resources and systems to support all aspects of youth development will put more young people on a path to solid education, meaningful careers, and eventual self-sufficiency.  

As we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King this Monday, it is appropriate to consider how far the nation has moved toward a more equitable and just society. At the same time, we have miles to go. Black men and boys continue to face drastically worse life outcomes. They are valuable human capital that we are losing. The nation simply cannot afford to write off another generation.

Learn more about the We Dream a World report and CLASP's youth of color work.

site by Trilogy Interactive