In America today, there are three myths, three fundamentally misguided beliefs that are hurting our young black men and boys -- bright young people that I have been fortunate to meet in my time as Mayor of Philadelphia. These myths chip away at the opportunities of these young men of color. As a result, we're putting an entire generation at a severe disadvantage and wasting the lives of millions of people who, with reasonable investment, could become vital contributors to our economy and society.
- Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.
- Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.
- Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.
We have a black President and many other elected officials, doctors, lawyers and industry leaders. Success is a possibility for any person willing to work hard to achieve it. That's the underlying belief that fuels this myth. But, it neglects the realities young black men and boys face every day in America: higher rates of poverty, arrests and incarceration, large health disparities and lower educational attainment rates.
Nationally, the four-year, on-time graduation rate is 78 percent. The national graduation rate for African American boys is just 52 percent. In my city, the on-time graduation rate for 2013 is 64 percent, with the graduation rate for African American boys at a mere 57 percent.
Why the gap? A young man of color is more likely to live in poverty. Children who live in poverty are more likely to miss school and less likely to graduate. Too often, they grow up to work a low-wage, low-skill job -- it's a cycle of poverty that usually remains unbroken. Addressing low-educational attainment for African American men and boys is not simple fix. We need more education funding, targeted resources and development programs. We need to keep our young men of color engaged in the learning process.
Over the last few years, Philadelphia has worked on a number of public-private partnerships and cross-sector collaborative projects to equip black men and boys with educational opportunities and training. Through the Clinton Global Initiative America's collaborative Year Up platform, we are providing low-income young adults with a professional development pipeline that links college to employment. Through CGI America, we're also partnering with Philadelphia Academies, IBM and other partners to develop Digital On-Ramps, an anytime, anywhere, any-device workforce development program.
Across America, black men and boys are disproportionately the victims and perpetrators of homicides. On average, 75 percent of victims and 80 percent of perpetrators of violent crimes are African American males. Nearly half of all homicide victims in the United States are black, even though African Americans account for only 13 percent of the population. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 10 and 24.
This isn't the case of "thugs killing thugs" that so many people pretend it to be. This is the mass murder and incarceration of an entire generation of African American men. It is the systemic decimation of opportunity, the obliteration of hope that makes these senseless and tragic deaths so damaging to our entire country. When a life is ended much too soon, a family loses a son, brother or father. Their world is irrevocably altered by that loss. But, so is our nation. We never benefit from their knowledge, creativity or abilities. We lose their contributions to our economies and communities.
In Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he wrote, "...We are all tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly..."
Just as we are all impacted by this violence, we're also responsible to address it. That's why New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and I launched Cities United, a national movement aimed at reducing the number of violence-related deaths of African American men and boys.
Cities United is creating a network of cities, mayors and partners that will work together to determine best practices to address pervasive violence affecting African American men and boys. It's about focusing on prevention and not just prosecution, intervention and not just incarceration.
This myth is rooted in the belief that federal, state and local governments have no obligation to help young men of color succeed. That mindset is wrong. We -- government at every level -- created this problem through decades of disinvestment, indifference and neglect.
It is my belief that my City and our country cannot move forward unless all of our residents are on a path to success. But to make that a reality, we all need to get involved. We need the legislative power of elected officials, the fundraising and programmatic support of the non-profit and philanthropic communities and the commitment of the business, religious and social advocacy sectors to expand opportunity for young men of color.
I was glad to participate in President Bill Clinton's CGI America meeting this week, where yesterday's session on men and boys of color encouraged leaders across sectors to come up with strategies to support Black men and boys.
This past February, President Barack Obama took action on this very issue of opportunity and success for young men of color and launched My Brother's Keeper Initiative.
During his announcement, President Obama said,
"It's an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President -- because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country."
I couldn't agree more. Let's work together to dispel these myths and put our young black men and boys on a path to success.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of the latter's fourth meeting of CGI America (June 23-25, 2014, in Denver). CGI America convenes business, government, and civil society leaders each year to make commitments boosting the economic recovery and long-term competitiveness of the United States. For more information, click here.
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