12/05/2011 09:33 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2012

Still Waiting: Black Male Achievement in America

The gap in achievement between black males and their white counterparts isn't news -- it's common knowledge, generally accepted, and only sometimes bemoaned. But it seems to me that we should be more alarmed -- four hundred years after arriving in America aboard slave ships, and they have yet to reach academic or socio-economic parity with their white peers. Does anyone see a problem here?

It's hard to believe that four hundred years have passed since slavery ravaged America beginning in the 1600s, and even harder to believe that it's been four hundred years of African Americans fighting unsuccessfully for full equality.

And now that schools and public places are no longer segregated, and legislation exists against discrimination in employment, voting and education, the fight has changed. In the 1950s and 60s, efforts towards equality coalesced into a national movement of sit-ins, bus boycotts, mass voter registrations and marches. Now, the once national response has been replaced by an array of individual and community-specific efforts, which, however beneficial, are too isolated to affect large-scale, national change.

The reality is that the inequalities of the 21st century aren't as explicit as Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, and the law does not sanction them -- which means there is no obvious fix. But, the statistics are tangible and certainly disturbing, and they start immediately at birth. For one, black infant mortality rates are more than twice that of whites, in a country that already has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.

As they grow into toddlerhood and childhood, the evidence mounts. Two-thirds of black children live in single parent households, which is three times that of white children. And one-third live in poverty, compared with one tenth of their white counterparts.

In school, black males score lower on standardized tests, are nearly twice as likely to drop out of high school, three times as likely to be suspended from school and less likely to go on to a two-year or four-year college.

The unemployment rate is more than twice that for blacks than for whites, 16.7 and 8 percent respectively. And it's been double that of whites since the government started keeping tabs in 1972. And while the unemployment rate surged to its highest since 1984, the white unemployment rate actually dropped slightly.

Fortunately, some leaders are refusing to accept the status quo any longer, and efforts at a large-scale national response are mounting. Back in September, I attended a conference hosted by the Open Society Foundations , where a national call to action was set in motion. Since then, Newark and twenty-five cities throughout the country participated in a Day of Action, where black leaders discussed various solutions to the problem.

And recently, Dr. Warren Farrell proposed the creation of a White House Council on Boys to Men, in response to President Obama's 2009 Executive Order creating a similar council for women, which was written up in Forbes magazine. In his proposal, the Council would focus on the fives areas in which boys are in crisis: education, jobs, emotional health, physical health, and fatherlessness. For Farrell, a national response is imperative, because "the best solutions are holistic ones."

Clearly, some leaders have the right idea. But our society's current laissez faire attitude suggests either apathy, or an assumption that the issue will resolve itself over time. Neither are appropriate responses. We have to decide if we are willing to accept these statistics as a permanent fixture of American society, and if not, what needs to be done. We must make an effort, not only as individuals and communities, and but collectively as a society.

For the first time in history, we have a black president in office. And while his election challenged society's latent bias, the buck doesn't stop there. We must take this opportunity to turn our attention towards the appalling discrepancies in black male achievement on a grander scale.

I've always felt that the absence of legally sanctioned discrimination meant that a national movement was no longer possible. I've since changed my mind -- the statistics I've shared are tangible, appalling, and worthy of a national response. The onus is now on the nation to set the agenda for change. Fifty years after the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and equality among black males is still only a dream. I think it's time to make it a reality.