The National Urban League's Commission on the Black Male

Article excerpt

In July 2003, Marc H. Mortal, president and CEO of the National Urban League, speaking at its annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, declared that many public policies, governmental programs and societal practices prevent African-American males from even trying to fulfill their potential as citizens of their communities and country alike-and that, sadly, too many African-American males themselves contribute in some ways to their predicament He promised that the Urban League itself would join more vigorously in seeking concrete solutions to the challenges and crises besetting black boys and males, and its first step would be to charge a task force of National Urban League staff members with developing plans for a full-fledged Commission on the status of Black Males.

Since its founding in 1910, the Urban League, both directly from its national office as well as through its affiliates across the country has produced a variety of programs to help African-American men (and women) gain social and economic equality. These ranged from job-training and education programs to programs helping men (and women) better understand the demands of family life. Indeed, the League's Adolescent Male Responsibility Program, begun in 1982, was one of the earliest attempts by a national organization to enlist male community residents in efforts to reduce and prevent unwanted pregnancies. In 1985, the League developed a national multi-media campaign that stressed the important role men and fathers have in healthy child development and family life.

But, in the intervening year the status of black males has moved sharply in two directions simultaneously.

On the one hand, some African-American men today have attained a stature in American society that less than half a century ago was only dreamt of; more black males are graduating from college than ever before; and millions more are living another facet of the American Dream-contributing to the society as "ordinary" tax-paying citizens.

But other facts and statistics about the status of black males today provoke the greatest alarm.

For example, African-American males comprise just one percent of America's school teachers. The unemployment rate for African-American males age 20 and over continues in double digits-the highest in that category; and the "commonplace" high degree of black male unemployment helps account for the significant gaps in earned income between black men and white men, and between black families and white families. …