Southern University’s Honore’ Center for Undergraduate Achievement is the home of the Five-Fifths Agenda for America, an ambitious program to remove at-risk black male youth from adverse circumstances, and with support from public and private resources, provide intervention strategies to promote academic achievement, civic engagement, physical and spiritual wellness, and professional development.
The short-term goal is to save lives. The long-term goal is to shape black men who will lead as educators and civil servants, reducing the school-to-prison pipeline in Baton Rouge and surrounding undeserved communities.
If it sounds familiar, it should; it is the blueprint for what President Barack Obama this week debuted as a unique acknowledgement of the American black male crisis by way of his ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative. His goal – a melding of public and private partners to lend resources, example and support to men of color who show a desire to overcome deficits in nature and in their nurturing.
The gesture is long overdue, and the kind of symbolic move that may ebb the tide of angst which has risen against President Obama and his cool approach to growing economic, social and political disparities plaguing African-Americans. In his speech, President Obama turned down the chastising dial with which he has historically spoken about Black disparities, and briefed the nation with a more personal, sympathetic approach to overcoming odds and personal responsibility which uniquely impact the Black American experience.
The speech and accompanying initiative may turn out to be a historic moment for President Obama’s presidential tenure, even if the resources, $200 million, and time-table of the program, five years, don’t come close to matching the logistical and cultural requirements of his aims.
‘My Brother’s Keeper’ and the Five-Fifths Agenda for America share some commonalities, but have one stark difference in implementation. The Five-Fifths Agenda prioritizes historically Black colleges and universities as the outreach and research hubs necessary to make the program effective and sustainable. President Obama’s program, so far, makes no mention of the role of HBCUs.
They weren’t mentioned in his speech, their presidents and chancellors were not invited en masse to join him at the press conference, and representatives from existing HBCU mentoring and intervention programs nationwide were not in the audience to join in the call to action on behalf of Black and Latino American boys.
It’s not that HBCU were singly left out of the party; the list of those organizations and foundations not present at the announcement reads as a star-studded list of Black advocacy organizations, many with HBCU-ties in leadership and mission. Joining HBCUs on the snubbed list were the United Negro College Fund, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, National Pan-Hellenic Council, National Urban League, the NAACP, and 100 Black Men, to name a few.
The faith community was mentioned in passing, but no direct mention of Black churches, mosques and other religious organizations with Black empowerment at the core of their divinely inspired missions were named as key partners. The thread shared by these spiritual and secular organizations is partnership with historically Black institutions to empower through education, and, moreover, to culturally deprogram the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow which stunt potential for Black success today.
It’s okay that these organizations weren’t invited to the ‘saving our sons’ launch party. Because they haven’t required or benefited from an executive order over the last 150 years to accomplish a goal that, for the first time, has made its way into the conscience of the Oval Office. While the bully pulpit of President Obama’s initiative launch would have served as the ideal marketing opportunity for these organizations, they are better positioned to use the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ banner to undergird expansion of their existing programs, which have benefited millions of Black families and their sons over the years.
Like the composite of the Black male population on any given HBCU campus, not every Black man faces imminent threat of jail, disavowing himself of family and community obligation, or death by violent crime. But, every Black man should be keenly aware and acting within the context of one brother being in jeopardy as one too many. That is the philosophy of programs like the Five-Fifths Agenda, Morgan State University’s M.I.L.E. program, Clark Atlanta University’s M.I.R.R.OR. program, Hampton University’s minority men’s health program, Cheyney University’s ‘Call Me Mister’ program, Philander Smith College’s Black Male Initiative, Bowie State University’s Male Initiative, Florida A&M University’s Black Male College Explorers program, and North Carolina Central University’s Student African-American Brotherhood program, to name a handful of the programs which exist in some form on nearly all 105 HBCU campuses.
‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is the ideal introduction between America and its ever-expanding race problem, and it strikes in the places most necessary to evoke generational change; the minds and hearts of boys and young men. But President Obama must include officials from existing Black male achievement programs at historically Black colleges and universities as key thought leaders and foot soldiers in its execution, for the sake of the communities and families they serve, and for the betterment of the nation at large.