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White House Provides Leadership on Challenges Confronting Males of Color

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Today the White House released the 90-day progress report from its My Brother's Keeper Task Force. While the report is just the first step, it provides significant evidence-based recommendations to address challenges that confront young males of color.

The challenges are often overlooked, perhaps because they seem overwhelming. Also, few of us want to make things worse by stereotyping young males of color, or by ignoring the challenges faced by all Americans.

Data show, however, that the challenges faced by young males of color warrant special attention. Just a few years ago, for example, the Joint Center's Dellums Commission studied challenges that face young men of color, and found that high school graduation rates among African-American, American Indian, and Latino males were disproportionately low (43, 47, and 48 percent, respectively) compared to white males (70 percent). In 2011, black males were only 6 percent of the overall population, but 43 percent of the murder victims. Similar and sometimes greater disparities exist in other areas.

Rather than ignore these disparities or relegate them to ideological soundbites such as a lack of individual responsibility, the My Brother's Keeper Report focuses on data and evidence-based policy solutions that work. The report provides coherence to complex issues by giving us tangible places to start.

For example, the report focuses on fundamental milestones -- such as reading by third grade -- that data show predict success. It looks to close the gap through a variety of evidence-based strategies, such as eliminating suspensions in preschool, using technology, and deploying public/private initiatives to increase reading time.

The debate between practical vocational training versus academic study goes back to Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, but the report wisely acknowledges that no single "magic formula" exists. Its 35 recommendations emphasize both career and college readiness -- they range from youth summer employment and pre-apprenticeships, to increasing access to rigorous academic courses.

Structural factors -- such as residential segregation -- have contributed to racial inequality in schools and juvenile justice systems. The report confronts these issues through a variety of recommendations, including a focused effort to transform the schools that produce most of the nation's dropouts, and ending racial bias in schools and juvenile justice systems.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the initial Task Force Report is that it uses the platform of the White House to highlight the fact that we all have an interest in helping to solve the challenges that confront young men of color. In President Obama's words, "We are stronger when America fields a full team." While the need to address challenges that confront young males of color is a moral issue, even those who focus solely on a cost-benefit analysis should appreciate a study that showed each dollar spent on high-quality pre-school for black children returned more than $16 by age 40, much of it in increased employment and tax receipts.

My Brother's Keeper has also leveraged the efforts of those outside government -- including recruiting long-term mentors and partnering with foundations -- including Annie E. Casey, Atlantic, Bloomberg, California Endowment, Ford, Knight, Open Society, Robert Wood Johnson, W.K. Kellogg, The Kapor Center, and Nathan Cummings.

The initial Task Force Report builds on the work of these foundations, the Joint Center's Dellums Commission, and many others over the past 20 years. The report provides leadership that helps ensure sustained attention to the challenges that confront young males of color. I look forward to the Task Force's next steps.

Spencer Overton is the Interim President and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington DC think tank focused on improving the socioeconomic status of people of color. He is also a Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School. Follow him on Twitter@SpencerOverton.