“There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”
President Obama, July 19, 2013
According to the 2011 Census Report, for the first time, the majority of babies born in the U.S. are babies of color. That makes it all the more heart wrenching when you realize that in today’s America, those babies are more likely to drop out of high school, suffer from addiction and violent crime, and end up incarcerated than their white counterparts.
That’s why President Obama’s new initiative My Brother’s Keeper is so important. For much too long, our nation has accepted the status quo with regard to the plight of young black and Latino boys.
Consider this: Nationally, only 52% of black males and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school in four years, as compared to 78% of white males. Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black males between the ages of 15 and 24. It is the second leading cause of death for Latino males of the same age group. Overall, black males were 6 times and Hispanic males 2.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males. In fact, more blacks and Latinos live in prison than live in college dorms.
My Brother’s Keeper is aimed at helping young men of color who are willing to do the hard work to get ahead. Through the establishment of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, an interagency effort ably led by my former White House colleague Broderick Johnson, the initiative will study current public/private efforts and identify best practices that can be expanded. Some of the policies under review will include early childhood education programs, access to higher education, bias or racism in the juvenile justice system, and stagnant wages in communities of color.
The President pledged to achieve these goals without adding to the federal budget by working with the private sector. Through partnerships with local businesses and foundations, the President wants to foster connections that will provide these youth with the mentoring, support networks and skills they need to get an education, find gainful employment and work their way out of poverty.
A number of foundations, including The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among others, announced an additional $200 million on top of the $150 million already pledged to meet those goals.
Make no mistake. This is a hand up, not a hand out. The President made it clear in his announcement of the program that young men of color must take responsibility for their lives and actions. He noted: “Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We’ve got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience. But you have got responsibilities too. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.”
Rejecting stereotypes is something we can all contribute to this effort. For those of us who have fought hard to achieve the American Dream, it is important that we reach back and lend a hand to those who are struggling. As Latinos, we take pride in community but can no longer be satisfied when too many young members of our community are left behind.
Having spent most of the first 15 years of my life in foster care along with my brother David, I can testify to the importance of good people stepping up to help two young boys find their way. Let us join with President Obama and pledge ourselves to working together to unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color---for the good of our community and our nation.
Mickey Ibarra is Founder of the Latino Leaders Network and President of the Ibarra Strategy Group. Previously, he served in the Clinton White House as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.
“In order for the United States to continue its advance in this century, it will be necessary that the American Latino community within it advance far beyond its present condition.”
In 1991, this was the vision driving soon-to-be HUD Secretary under President Clinton, Henry Cisneros, and Raul Yzaguirre, then President and CEO of NCLR, in the creation of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). Over two decades later, the nonpartisan association steered by distinguished leaders has grown to become a coalition of 36 prominent Latino organizations representing the diversity of our community.
Today, the stakes are high when it comes to issues impacting us like education, immigration reform, government accountability, health care, civil rights and economic development---making NHLA’s mission more important now than ever. At a time when the Latino community is facing so many challenges, NHLA represents a space of unity where national Hispanic organizations and their leaders come together to provide the Hispanic community with greater visibility and a clearer, stronger influence in our nation’s affairs. While more work needs to be done, NHLA, in conjunction with its individual members, is up to the challenge.
Moving forward into 2014, NHLA is leading the charge in five priority areas to help empower and advance our community. First, while Latinos are nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population, they have been a relatively stagnant 8 percent of the nation’s Federal workforce for the past several years. In January 2013, President Barack Obama’s Cabinet was left without a single Hispanic voice after the departures of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. NHLA has promoted qualified Latino candidates for positions in the last three Presidential Administrations and worked to overcome procedural and political obstacles in the U.S. Senate that have delayed the confirmation of numerous nominees. More recently, we fought for the for the successful confirmations of Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Katherine Archuleta as Director of the Office of Personnel Management, the first Latina to ever hold this position.
NHLA leadership and members also worked vigorously to support the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and build public and political support for her confirmation. Through rigorous Hill and Administration advocacy and media outreach, NHLA was able to help convey the excitement of the Latino community around Justice Sotomayor’s nomination directly to Senators and their senior advisors. In January 2013, our coalition launched its new Latino Appointments Program to identify and support junior to Cabinet-level Latino candidates pursuing presidential and state-level appointments.
Second, NHLA launched its Latinos United for Immigration Reform campaign last year, an unprecedented campaign led by Latino leaders and organizations from across the political spectrum, representing business, labor, community, faith and civil rights advocates, that is carrying forward the message sent by Latino voters in November 2012 for immigration reform.
The campaign is focused on achieving reform that provides for earned legalization and a path to citizenship for hard working undocumented immigrants and their families. It promotes economic growth by creating workable legal immigration channels aligned to the needs of our economy while upholding labor protections, preserves family unity and reduces family backlogs, and restores the rule of law through smart enforcement that improves safety, prevents discrimination and respects due process. The campaign includes an online platform at LatinosUnited.org for the public to engage Members of Congress, outreach to both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, and a grassroots effort that has already included 67 town halls in 24 states and Puerto Rico, with five more scheduled in the coming weeks.
Third, NHLA formed the Latinos United for Healthcare (LUH) campaign to advocate for the Latino community’s priorities in health reform legislation. Through coordinated lobby visits and media outreach, the campaign was able to achieve several successes despite the polarized political environment surrounding health reform and its nexus with our immigrant population. These successes included, among other things, an expansion of Medicaid to cover more lower income families and individuals, ensuring that subsidies in the health insurance exchanges would be available to immigrant families, and securing new Medicaid funding for the territories. Now our attention is focused on making sure that the Latino community take advantage of the historic opportunity that the Affordable Care Act presents us: the ability to enroll over 10 million uninsured Latinos into health coverage.
Fourth, Latinos United for a Fair Economy is a campaign led by Latino organizations that urges Congress and the President to support policies that provide economic security and empowerment to Latino families, improving our standard of living and growing our economy through investment in our youth and small business. Critical to this effort are safeguarding the safety net and income support programs that protect the most vulnerable in society, and rolling back the irrational and arbitrary budget cuts, known as sequestration, that are cutting Federal investments in education, job training, healthcare, transportation and other important domestic priorities that impact the lives of Latino families.
Finally, the Latinos United for Voting Rights is an unprecedented campaign comprised of Latino leaders and organizations from across the political spectrum to ensure a fair and bipartisan process in modernizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that includes full Latino participation and representation at the ballot box.
American Latinos are now such a large percentage of the nation’s population that the scale of our presence will inevitably shape the American future in important ways. NHLA stands ready to help shape that future for the better. Looking ahead to the next two decades of advocacy work, we are confident that the foundation we are laying represents the goals and aspirations not only of our founders, but of the Latino community as a whole. Our founders understood that the Latino community exists as an integrated and interconnected part of this nation and so too should its leadership.
Hector E. Sanchez is the Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) and Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).