Rising Above Racism And Uplifting Black Men And Boys

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When I first interviewed then-candidate Barack Obama on his campaign plane in 2008, he talked passionately about fatherhood, uplifting Black men, and the importance of men of color taking responsibility for parenting their children.

Two terms in the White House and eight years later, President Obama is still talking eloquently about empowering Black men in the twilight of this tenure.

Through My Brother’s Keeper initiative, Obama’s legacy to inspire Black boys and young men of color will likely continue long after he leaves office.

But sadly, America has revealed an ugly legacy of its own during Obama’s stewardship in the Oval Office: The overt racism directed at Obama when he took office eight years ago is still prevalent today as some bigots are hell-bent on posting racist memes right up until Obama leaves 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The president has endured more mean-spirited racism than any president in history simply because he is the nation’s first Black commander-in-chief. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, says hate groups have increased significantly over the years in large part because of Obama’s presidency.

Just last week, the West York, Pennsylvania council accepted the resignation of Republican Mayor Charles Wasko, after Wasko, who is white, posted racist memes about Obama on his Facebook page, including two posts depicting apes with captions referring to President Obama and his family.

One image of a wagon full of orangutans referred to “moving day” at the White House. Another post referenced lynching.

The litany of racist insults that Obama has endured is absolutely astonishing and I have written countless columns highlighting bigotry against Obama since he was elected president.

What struck me, however, is this: Most racist comments have come from regular Americans but an increasing number of bigoted remarks have also come from elected officials, like Wasko, who are boldly unapologetic about their overt racism against Obama.

In fact, Wasko defended his racism, saying he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”

But in an interview this month with a Harrisburg TV station, Wasco said: “The racist stuff, yeah. I’ll admit I did that, and I don’t care what people label me as.” And Wasco said he did not regret the racist posts referencing Obama.

We know Wasko isn’t alone in his disdain for Obama. But here’s what I find refreshing: The president has not once wavered from his mission to support men of color despite criticism from some right-wing Americans. Obama, for the most part, ignored the racists – as he should – and stayed focused on the issues that matter.

Obama’s ambitious initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, (MBK) has become a remarkable reality: Since its inception in 2014 and Obama’s call to action, nearly 250 communities in all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 19 tribal nations have accepted the MBK Community Challenge.

The White House said more than $600 million in private sector and philanthropic grants and in-kind resources and $1 billion in low-interest financing have been committed toward the MBK call to action to expand opportunities for young people of color.

Many major corporations have partnered with the MBK initiative to offer mentoring, job training and employment. Some of the companies include, 3M, AT&T CVS Health, Delta, Principal Financial Group and FedEx.

The White House also said at-risk underserved youth—including low-income youth and students of color—have the lowest rates of high school graduation and attainment of higher education and consequently low employment in jobs with decent wages.  So the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education is announced a $2 million grant for technical education programs for at-risk students.

These are real solutions to real problems. Black boys and young men of color all across the country are being empowered – and many are being offered a second chance to succeed – through the MBK initiative.

“We’ve seen a tremendous response from people and organizations at all levels that are answering the president’s call to action,” Broderick Johnson, Assistant to the President and Chair of My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, told me earlier this year. “What has been gratifying is watching these communities develop the infrastructure to do this work beyond President Obama’s presidency.”

In less than three months, Obama will leave the White House but in the true spirit of social activism, boys and men of color will benefit from the president’s vision for years to come.

It’s an extraordinary legacy for Obama, who didn’t know his own father, but managed to offer memorable teachable moments in the midst of relentless racial condemnation.

That’s leadership.

What do you think?

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