Washington--With the help of bipartisan Congressional support and political luminaries such as Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, the recently formed 21st Century Commission on African American Males last week launched a national crusade to better the status and destiny of black males in this country.
The 33-member commission, which held its first meeting in March, aims to focus national attention on issues facing black males and to present next year to the Congress a set of public-policy recommendations and strategies for action, said Douglas Glasgow, the commission’s “resident scholar” and the former dean of the Howard University School of Social Work.
The recommendations likely will center on five topics: economics, workforce participation, education, health care, and social problems, according to the commission.
In a speech to a national conference convened here last week by the commission, Governor Wilder, the first black elected governor of Virginia since Reconstruction, characterized the initiative as a “continuous assault against all forms of substantive, psychological, legal, and systemic denial of the development of the highest possibility of the individual.”
Mr. Wilder and other participants in the invitation-only conference acknowledged that the three-day event would not solve the myriad problems facing black males. But they emphasized that it was meant to be part of a larger, ongoing effort.
“The accomplishments of this conference will not be found in this or next week’s newspaper articles about our efforts,” Mr. Wilder said in his keynote address, “but in the improved lives and the opportunities of the African-American male and, hence, in the improved quality of life for all Americans in the 21st century.”
Congressional Interest Cited
At the conference--which drew scholars, public and private-sector leaders, and a panel of young black men--recommendations for action ranged from increasing the number of black men who act as role models and surrogate fathers to black youngsters to implementing a “massive, Marshall-plan like effort on the part of the government,” as suggested by Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The commission’s report to the Congress is expected to draw on the results of last week’s conference and other meetings sponsored by the group, as well as Congressional hearings, Mr. Glasgow said.
Several conference participants noted that Congressional attention and encouragement help set this initiative apart from other similar efforts.
Senator Terry Sanford, Democrat of North Carolina, who serves with Governor Wilder as honorary chairman of the commission, was credited by the Governor with developing the idea for the commission.
The commission’s honorary board includes seven other U.S. members of the Congress as well as former President Jimmy Carter.
Many other notable elected officials, educators, social-program advocates, and private-sector leaders are affiliated in some way with the commission.
The group’s co-chairmen are Mayor David N. Dinkins of New York; Arthur A. Fletcher, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; John Jacob, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League; and U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, Democrat of New York.
Commission members include former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, who is now president of Drew University; Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore; David A. Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York; Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Franklyn Jenifer, president of Howard University.
The conference was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Xerox Corporation. Six other corporations also lent financial support to the event, as did Howard University and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
The commission’s initiative comes at time when concern is mounting nationwide over the plight of black males, who are disproportionately likely to be school dropouts, unemployed, jailed, or murdered.
Officials in New York City, De4troit, and Milwaukee are considering or have decided to create schools specifically for black males. (See Education Week, Oct. 10, 1990 and Jan. 23, 1991.)
In his remarks to a conference audience, Governor Wilder said: "[I]f we assembled here and all Americans will commit ourselves to addressing the plight of today’s black male, then the black male of tomorrow will be committed to his education, will be committed to his family and to his career rather than to a correctional institution or an early grave.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 1991 edition of Education Week as National Crusade To Improve Destiny of Black Males Launched