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Black Elites Look Silly Over ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Criticism

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POSTED June 26, 2014 11:59 p.m.

There is no more endangered figure in America than the black man.

A cursory look at the education system, the prison industrial complex, unemployment numbers and mortality rates will show that if you are a minority man in America, you are more likely to be in prison, less educated, underemployed and will die at an earlier age.

Recognizing these dismal stats, President Barack Obama in February launched an audacious initiative to push the philanthropic community to stand in support with community-based groups and assist them in reversing the bleak future for minority men.

He pushed corporate and foundation leaders to pledge to spend $200 million over the next five years -- they have already spent $150 million -- on programs to offer a future for these men.

It was widely hailed as innovative and greatly needed.

Yet, three months later, the president’s initiative is under assault from a group of 200 men of color, and 1,000 women of color, who are assailing the president and his staff for downplaying and downright ignoring the plight of minority women.

The group of men first wrote an open letter decrying the exclusion of girls of color, and they were then followed up by a group of women. Prominent names like Danny Glover, Mary Frances Berry, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and others are among the nearly 1,500 signatures. A perusal of both will reveal most are academics that spend the bulk of their time living and working in the ivory tower.

Their basic premise? Open up “My Brother’s Keeper” to minority girls and be more inclusive.

My response? Absolutely nonsense. Leave “My Brother’s Keeper” as it is -- an intense, targeted focus on a group desperately needing attention.

This public battle reminds me of two children who fight for the attention of their parents. One says the other is the favorite child who gets all of the love and attention.

But what makes this so silly is that in his first 90 days as president, Obama launched the White House Office on Women and Girls, an initiative that mandated that all federal departments and agencies consider the impact of policy on women and girls.

One is a White House effort targeting the philanthropic community, and the other speaks directly to public policy.

But the White House office has been dismissed by some of the woman arguing for inclusion into “My Brother’s Keeper,” saying it has no foundation, no money, no vision.

Yet when I talked Wednesday to Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president and his closest friend, she said none of the women involved bothered to reach out to her over the last 5 1/2 years to register a complaint or offer to create a plan to focus on minority girls.

Think about that: If a collective body of people are so concerned about minority girls and wanted presidential action, why not use the apparatus he created 90 days into his presidency?

It angers me to no end to see this complaining because the need is so great. I’ve heard from numerous black women who don’t agree at all with including girls in “My Brother’s Keeper,” saying it should stay the course.

But what also ticks me off is to listen to all of these so-called smart people suggest that because I believe in gender-specific initiatives, I’m sexist. Really? So if it’s a female-specific program, am I still sexist?

I am fully supportive of a plan that targets minority boys of color and one of girls of color. To deal with the complexities of what ails both groups requires a targeted focus.

Any White House is sensitive to criticism, and this one doesn’t want to be trashed for launching and innovative idea whose time has come. But this is one time I would say they ignore the carping and criticism. If those behind the hashtag, #WhyWeCantWait, are serious, then not wait to meet with Jarrett and others to offer a solution.

Writing an open letter and tweeting is fine, but that won’t do a damn thing to raise the collective fortunes of a group of people, male or female.

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