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April 16, 2009

Alicia Ingram


By Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell

Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell

I applaud your recent creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls to help ensure we are treated equally in public policies, by employers and in every other aspect of American society. I must also urge, however, that you place a similar emphasis on men and boys, particularly young men of color, who face some of the steepest hurdles in American society.

The reasons cited in forming the new council are just -- throughout our nation's history women have often been treated as second-class citizens when it comes to earning a livelihood, climbing the corporate ladder and even exercising the delayed right to vote. Let us not forget that the Equal Rights Amendment was first drafted in 1923--and has yet to be ratified.

To be sure, the new council will focus attention on continuing the progress that has been made through the decades as women have crashed through the glass ceiling.

But I would argue that young men of color face even more daunting circumstances. Young men of color face challenges ranging from a justice system that disproportionately incarcerates them to media and entertainment industries quick to portray them as worthless, violent and criminal. Even before the recession, our young men of color faced a bleak job market where discrimination, globalization and structural change made it difficult for them to find good jobs and succeed in life. With the nation's economy in a tailspin, the unemployment of young men of color has been spiraling out of control.

Consider this sampling of data:

* High school graduation rates for males of color--African Americans (42.8 percent), Native American/Alaska Natives (47 percent) and Hispanics (48 percent)--are far lower than for whites (70.8 percent).
* Minority youths are disproportionately in the juvenile justice system: African Americans (1,004 per 100,000), American Indians (632 per 100,000) and Latinos (485 per 100,000) compared with whites (212 per 100,000).
* More than 29 percent of African-American boys who are 15-years-old today are likely to go to prison at some point in their lives, compared with 4.4 percent of white boys the same age.
* The mortality rate from homicide for African-American boys ages 15-17 is 34.4 per 100,000, compared with 2.4 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic white boys.

Let's face the reality. It can be a gritty and dangerous world on the streets of urban America, on the impoverished Native American reservations and in the camps of migrant workers. In many cases, government and much of our society turn their back to these conditions and ignore their existence--rather than seek to allocate resources and develop policies to redress the conditions that threaten the survival of young men of color.

An array of public policies enforced by the schools, police and courts has helped put young men of color at such a disadvantage. These policies range from mandatory-minimum sentences to zero tolerance of behavioral offenses in schools to minimum wages that do not afford a young adult an opportunity to support himself, let alone a family. These public policies have often been popular with the public, but collectively have built many of the barriers to young men of color leading productive lives.

Moreover, the media and entertainment industries have also contributed greatly to raising these hurdles.

Clearly, a disproportionate number of young men of color have dropped out of school, been arrested and been left jobless. Still, there are countless others who go to college, succeed in their jobs, are good fathers and make outstanding accomplishments in their lives. Unfortunately, however, very little information is shared about their achievements or successes. Rarely are young men of color projected or viewed as positive role models.

While there has been a growing angst over the misdeeds of some, there has been little attention paid to what public policies or social determinants have contributed to the plight of young men of color.

Certainly, some of the responsibility lies with the child or teenager who made wrong decisions, as well as with family members who failed to help youngsters overcome critical obstacles and to guide them to a more productive course. But we cannot underestimate the powerful negative impact of the stereotypical portrayals, the glorification of criminal and violent behavior in movies and television, and the lack of good news stories about young men of color on the airwaves.

Mr. President, what you can do is create a council that looks into how public policies can be amended and how portrayals of this demographic can be changed. As others have stated, the women and girls that you want to help prosper need male counterparts to build strong families.

You can take a huge step by creating a council that helps men, particularly young men of color, be successful in American society. Right now, they often face insurmountable challenges.

Men need your help, too.

Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell
Director of Community Voices of Morehouse School of Medicine

(Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell is director of Morehouse School of Medicine's Community Voices, a non-profit working to improve health services, and health-care access, for all Americans. To arrange a print or broadcast interview with Dr. Treadwell, please contact Alicia Ingram, 404-493-1724,

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