At the White House this week, I had the pleasure of meeting three young men who participate in the Chicago based B.A.M. program. B.A.M stands for Becoming A Man. It's sad, even sick, that such programs are needed, but they are, desperately.
Boys without dads in the home are more likely to be poor and fail at school and if you're African American, there's a one in two chance you grew up without a father. If you're Latino there's a one in four chance.
Black students are far less likely than white students to be able to read proficiently by the time they get out of elementary school which leads to academic and discipline problems in high school and ends in prison for far too many men.
Chances are you've heard all this before or, at least, aren't surprised by the odds. President Obama says we've become numb to the statistics and I agree. However, we have to realize that as Americans, the reality about minority men makes us weaker, and as Christians we have a responsibility to do a better job of keeping our brothers.
Using his historic presidency and the power of his office, President Obama is launching "My Brother's Keeper", an initiative to encourage more programs like B.A.M. that keep black and Latino men on track by helping them mature emotionally, set worthwhile goals and respect women. Instead of tax dollars, "My Brother's Keeper" is relying on hundreds of millions of private foundation dollars. In the coming years programs will be tested to see what works and what doesn't. However, I encourage each of us to act now. Instead of waiting for the analysis or finding comfort in the fact that someone else is doing something we all should act.
In talking to the young men participating in B.A.M. both the shame and void that comes with not having a dad around was immediately apparent. It was also clear that the attention and guidance the men have received from B.A.M. has literally changed the trajectory of their lives. They have more self control and confidence which allows the people in their lives to receive them differently and that sets up expectations of success. And, of course, having the president of the United States truly understand at least some of their circumstances and make a public cry for their aide gives them pride.
While announcing, "My Brother's Keeper" the president said things that even his critics can appreciate.
"Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is "no excuses." 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. That's what we're here for. But you've got responsibilities, too."
He went on to say, "We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach their full potential. Because if we do -- if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers, and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens -- then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren, will start a different cycle. And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come."
The most moving part of the program came at the end. President Obama shook hands with all of the young men who were standing behind him. When he extended his hand to the second row, one of the young men leaned in, buried his head in the president's shoulder and gave him a long hug. We all need hugs, especially boys without dads.
Please watch what some of the young men participating in B.A.M. had to say in my story that aired on the 700 Club.