"Life Options for Young African-American Males,"by Michael R. Wenger July/August 2005 issue of Poverty & Race
When former Congressman Ron Dellums (D-CA) agreed to chair the Commission on Life Options for Young African-American Males, he vowed that the Commission, now known as the Dellums Commission, would “not put out another report that will gather dust.” The former Capitol Hill veteran, who has made a career of being a strong voice for the voiceless, declared that “the Commission will put together a document and a set of recommendations that will make a tangible difference.”
This effort is unique in that it focuses on needed policy changes, especially at the state level, in addressing
the needs of young African-American males, and it frames the issues of over-representation in the criminal justice system and the school-to-prison pipeline as health issues. The decision to proceed in this direction was made by Dr. Gail Christopher, Director of the Health Policy Institute (HPI) of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Center’s Vice President for Women, Health and Families. With the advice and guidance of Univ. of Maryland Political Science Professor Ron Walters and Senior Policy Adviser Pat Babcock, Christopher convened the Dellums Commission as a key element in HPI’s agenda, since public policies at the local, state and federal levels have had the combined and cumulative effect of limiting the life options for young men of color.
This is a community health issue, because:
It is worth emphasizing some of the more sobering numbers reviewed by the Commission:
To look more closely at these and other data, their economic impact and innovative practices that illustrate how policy changes can make a difference, seven research papers have been commissioned by the Dellums group:
As of this writing, the papers are in preliminary draft form. But it is nonetheless clear that public policies enacted incrementally over the past 3-4 decades, such as “zero tolerance,” mandatory sentencing requirements and an emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation, even for non-violent drug offenders, have contributed to the disproportionate school drop-out rates among young men of color and to their rates of incarceration. This has led to sizeable increases in expenditures for criminal justice systems, at the expense of public monetary support for education and community health programs that could help to ameliorate this problem. It is equally clear that public policies related to education, community health and criminal justice are intertwined and must be addressed in a holistic manner.
These sobering realities were discussed in some detail during the public debut of the Commission at Howard University on July 25. At an all-day session, authors of the papers, Commission members, invited respondents and community leaders shared ideas and insights based on both research and actual experiences. The day’s proceedings are available on the Joint Center’s website, www. jointcenter.org. The following day, the Commission held a press briefing at the National Press Club, where Chairman Dellums issued a “call to action,” asking all who “care about the future of our country” to “join us in rescuing our young men of color, and by so doing, living up to our commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all our citizens.” Subsequent public hearings will lead to a final report in July 2006, with a detailed plan of action that speaks to Chairman Dellums’ commitment to “make a tangible difference.” This plan of action can help to make real the Health Policy Institute’s mission: “To ignite a ‘Fair Health’ movement that gives people of color the inalienable right to equal opportunity for healthy lives.”
Michael R. Wenger is Senior Fellow and Acting Vice-President for Civic Engagement and Governance at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and an adjunct faculty member in the Sociology Dept. of The George Washington Univ. He formerly was Deputy Director for Outreach and Program Development for Pres. Clinton’s Initiative on Race. This article is drawn from his personal and professional memoir, “My Black Family, My White Privilege: A White Man’s Journey Through the Nation’s Racial Minefield” (iUniverse Incorporated, 2012), available in hb, pb and e format.
See in the Resources Sec.,the closely related short item by Sam Fulwood III, “Race and Beyond: Witness to Whiteness.” email@example.com
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