President Barack Obama has announced My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to help young Black and Brown men succeed in the east wing of the White House. Many present described the announcement of this initiative as “an emotional moment” for President Obama and for many of the others gathered there. Several of the African American men who were present at the announcement took to the airwaves afterwards, talking about how it felt to be in a room where the nation’s first Black president talked about his own background and his identification with troubled young Black men. The parents of slain teens Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were in the room, reinforcing a statement the president made a year or so ago when he said that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin.
While president Obama says he will ask government agencies to work together to create more possibilities for young Black men, he emphasized that the Brother’s Keeper initiative is not a new government program. Indeed, early funding will come from private foundations. Few specifics of the program have been released, but preliminary activity will include a review of existing programs to determine what works and what doesn’t. Still, the president has used the power of his pen, the phone and his pulpit to raise awareness about the many economic challenges African American men face.
Using the term “no excuses” President Obama told young men that they had to take responsibility for their own success. That comment gave CNN “journalist” Don Lemon the opportunity to mouth off at Obama critics, to chide his own critics, and to demonstrate why he might be a more effective opinionator than journalist. Lemon was one of many, also, to describe Brother’s Keeper as part of the Obama legacy. Many said they expect the president to continue to be involved in the empowerment of Black and Brown boys and men.
While I think Brother’s Keeper has tremendous potential, given the socioeconomic status of African American men, there is not yet enough meat on the bones of the announcement to judge. President Obama has three years left in office. Is this as good as it gets?
For all the good he will do with the Brothers Keeper initiative, the president may leave a different kind of legacy with his recent set of nominees to the Georgia district court. With six vacant seats on that court, our president has chosen to appoint four Republicans, including two social conservatives. In a state that is 31 percent African American, there is only one Black nominee. These judges are appointed for life. Judicial appointments are a clear part of a legacy.
President Obama has been vocal about people’s right to vote, and disdainful of voter suppression tactics from long lines to voter ID. Attorney General Eric Holder has brought suit against counties and states engaged in various gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. Why, then, would this president nominate Mark Cohen, who successfully defended Georgia’s voter ID law in court? Despite opposition from Rev. Joseph Lowery, as well as by civil rights veteran and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), the president has refused to rescind the Cohen nomination. The young men he lifted up in his Brothers Keeper initiative may be the same ones denied the right to vote through voter suppression. Cohen, in his late 50s, may serve as many as two decades on the bench. What kind of anti-civil rights rulings might he make?
Rev. Lowery and Congressman Lewis are among those also opposing former state legislator Michael Boggs, on his conservative legislative record, which includes his opposition to marriage equality, his vote to keep the confederate insignia on the Georgia flag, and his efforts to restrict access to abortion. Through his votes, Boggs has indicated his opposition to the African American community, to women, and to the LGBT community. What kind of votes might we expect from Boggs, who is in his early fifties, in the decades to come. And why won’t President Obama listen to those African American stalwarts who strongly object to this nomination?
Georgia congressman David Scott (D) told TVOne’s Roland Martin that these nominations are disrespectful to the nation and to the African American community. The national civil rights organizations have, unfortunately, been silent on this matter. Are they too frightened of losing the president’s goodwill to speak up?
Ten years from now, will we write that the status of African American and Latino boys and men has improved? That Judges Cohen and Boggs have made rulings that have further eroded civil and human rights? A collective Black voice muted by the fact that a community can’t excoriate a White president after giving a Black one a pass? Which is the Obama legacy?
Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer and president emerita of Bennett College for Women.
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