Blog Posts Related to the African American Community

  • STEM Access & Diversity: African American History Month Champions of Change

    Last week the White House Office of Public Engagement, along with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, honored ten Champions of Change  in honor of their achievements and contributions to exposing and accelerating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities for more African American youth and communities. Each of the Champions founded innovative ways to inspire interest and provide access for African American youth in STEM whether it’s through hackathons, technology programs for girls of color in underserved school districts, skill development summer programs or STEM enrichment programs for educators. They created opportunities based on their own personal experiences of what they never had growing up.

    African American Champions of Change with Local Students

    The Champions of Change take a picture with local students in the audience who joined in in the Q & A with the Champions. February 26, 2014. (by The U.S. Department of Education)

    Kalimah Priforce was inspired to pursue a career in STEM when he was in grade school and enrolled in a science camp. Coming from a group home, he was excited to experience his favorite subjects in a new environment. As he stood at the bus stop in front of his group home, Kalimah watched the science camp bus drive right past him.  Left with disappointment, that moment was the turning point in his life – he had to get out and take control of his own life. Today, he uses web and mobile-based technology, hackathons with young men of color, to promote mentorship and innovation in technology as a creative outlet instead of an unconquerable challenge. Danielle Lee never let her grade point average define her career or dreams. She went from being a C-student in Biology to having a PHD in Biology. She looked beyond the classroom to apply her technical skills and found creative solutions to everyday problems, even rewiring the electricity in her home so that she could have a television in her room.

    In 2012, President Obama launched the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans  to help accelerate national efforts to support African American students – because improving educational opportunities for all students is critical to ensuring we increase college completion and employment rates to strengthen our nation’s economy.

    These STEM Champions are using strategies that support investments even in our youngest learners which we know will enhance “Opportunity for All,” the center of the President’s State of the Union speech this year, and enable them to pursue and persist in college and specialized training for STEM careers. The future of our country depends on both improving youth access to these fields and ensuring that their interest and skillset is encouraged, developed, and promoted beyond the classroom. 

    Rumana Ahmed is an Executive Assistant to the Director of Public Engagement

  • "We Are All Our Brothers' Keepers"

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from United States Department of Justice.


    Photo Courtesy of Department of Justice.

    Last week I attended the President’s announcement of his new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” a plan to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and play by the rules has the chance to reach his full potential.  The initiative is aimed at finding ways the federal government, community leaders, the private sector and philanthropies can create more opportunities for young men of color and send the message that our country is stronger when all Americans are doing well. 

    A key goal of this effort is to address the overrepresentation of African American and Latino men in the criminal and juvenile justice systems and reduce the rates of violence and victimization that they experience. At the Office of Justice Programs we’re taking what we know about adolescent development and working to promote a juvenile justice system that is both effective and fair. 

    Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that African American young men between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest rate of violent victimization of any race or age group.  For African American young men between 10 and 24, homicide is not only the leading cause of death, but it results in more deaths than the next four leading causes combined. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for Latino youth in the same age group. At the same time, the rates of arrest and incarceration for young men of color are disproportionately high. African American youth make up just 16 percent of the overall youth population but more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime. As the President said, “these statistics should break out hearts. And they should compel us to act.”

    It is in our collective interest to recognize that the image many people of color have of our criminal justice system is that it is biased against their young men.  We need to simultaneously work to build trust and to end the violence that threatens so many of our youth. The reality is that no one wants to see these problems – not the families who live in these communities, and not the officers who keep the communities safe. The Justice Department’s COPS Office and Community Relations Service, for example, are striving to build trust and mutual respect and a stronger relationship between law enforcement officials and the neighborhoods they serve.  These programs work closely with law enforcement and human service agencies to identify these challenges and design effective solutions. 

    At the Department of Justice we are engaged in a number of efforts to encourage and facilitate this collaboration. The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which is led by the White House and involves the Justice Department and other federal agencies, brings all major community stakeholders together to develop strategies for addressing youth violence – citizens, community and faith-based groups, law enforcement, public health, businesses, and philanthropies.  Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also manages the Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program, which supports evidence-based violence reduction efforts that involve community residents in changing norms and helping their youth find a way to avoid crime and violence.  Through the Defending Childhood initiative, we are promoting early intervention programs designed to put kids who are exposed to violence back on the path to healthy development and steer and harmful behavior.  And we provide support for mentoring services that help children who have parents behind bars, and work to keep young people from entering the school-to-prison pipeline.

    But the Department of Justice is only one part of the response.  The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will rely on the resources of the private sector and philanthropies  to use evidence-based solutions to strengthen and replicate programs that work, and reinforce to our young people the message that their country believes in them enough to invest in their success.

    Working together, we can – and will – make a difference.

    Karol V. Mason is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

     

     

     

  • Thank Goodness for Pushy Dads: My #GetCovered Story

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from HHS.gov

    On a chilly December evening, as I was healing from a volleyball-related mild concussion, my dad came into my room and said: “Don’t you think it’s time you looked into affordable health insurance?”

    He had urged me many times before to get covered, but I thought I was invincible. I’m 34 and have lived a healthy lifestyle. I thought if I ate my vegetables and drove defensively, I’d be okay. In October, in November, and into December, he pushed me to look into my options. I made a few half-hearted attempts to satisfy him, but I never took it seriously. Fortunately for me, his motto is, “Persistence beats resistance!” and he never gave up.

    I was born and raised in Flint, Mich. After graduating from Michigan State University, I was no longer covered by my parents’ health insurance. The idea of purchasing my own was nowhere on my radar because I didn’t think I needed it.

    Chasing my dreams, I moved to Los Angeles to try on different careers. I worked with a celebrity stylist, created a clothing line with my brother, and began acting. Feeling a spiritual calling to be closer to home, I returned to Flint and pursued an acting career in the Metro Detroit area. With auditions and bookings so infrequent, I had to find part-time jobs—including a junior varsity volleyball coach position.

    With all of this uncertainty, my income frequently fluctuated; one day I was covered under the county’s health plan, and the next I was kicked off. Going from insured to uninsured was exhausting, and I finally gave up. I’ve been uninsured for most of the past 10 years.

    I realize now what a dangerous gamble that time in my life was. I didn’t think about accidents or illnesses. I didn’t even think about a benign lump in my right breast that I had removed years ago under my parents’ insurance. I never considered what I would have done if a lump had returned.

    I was living on the edge, one mishap away from a financial disaster!

    Maybe the concussion knocked some sense into me, but I finally listened to my dad.

    I logged onto Healthcare.gov and enrolled in a Silver plan that includes dental. And since I qualify for a reduced premium, the plan costs less than $100 a month.

    A burden I didn’t even realize I was carrying was lifted off of my shoulders!

    I received my health insurance card on my mother’s birthday, January 2nd. What a great gift to us all! My parents and I now have the peace of mind knowing that I have affordable, quality insurance. I can go anywhere and pursue my dreams because I have the confidence of knowing that I am covered.

    I strongly encourage all young adults to visit the Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov before open enrollment ends March 31 —even if, like me, you think you’re invincible. It’s easy and your options may be cheaper than you think.

    I won’t say that parents always know best, but I have to admit that signing up has been a breath of fresh air. I’m so glad mine never gave up. Thanks, Dad!

  • “My Brother’s Keeper”: Not a Person to Spare

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from United States Department of Labor.

    President Obama’s opportunity agenda – his belief that success should be determined by hard work and personal responsibility, not the circumstances of your birth – extends to every American. But perhaps no community more urgently needs a hand up on the ladder of opportunity than young men of color. That’s why the president announced a new initiative last week called My Brother’s Keeper, designed to give every young man of color who is willing to work hard the chance to live out his highest and best dreams.

    Opportunity remains elusive for too many young men of color. If you’re African-American, for example, you have a 50-50 chance of growing up without a father. It’s a 1-in-4 chance if you’re Latino. Fatherless boys, as the president pointed out, are more likely to be poor and to struggle in school. Black students lag behind their white counterparts in reading proficiency. By high school, black and Latino kids are more likely to have disciplinary problems and to end up dropping out, with a better chance of ending up in the criminal justice system. These are unconscionable hurdles that we have an obligation to do everything in our power to address.

    My Brother’s Keeper will do so by tapping the resources and expertise of foundations, philanthropists, faith leaders, businesses leaders and more. And it will use evidence-based strategies to evaluate which federal government programs are making progress toward our goal of empowering young men of color and which aren’t. Let’s identify what works and take it to scale.

    At the Labor Department, we look forward to an active role in this initiative. We are already making strong investments in programs that can help young men of color acquire the skills they need to find work and unlock their potential.

    Job Corps, for example, is an intensive residential, education and career technical training program for eligible at-risk youth, ages 16 to 24, with 125 centers nationwide. Last year, more than 70 percent of new enrollees were students of color. YouthBuild helps at-risk youth and high school dropouts obtain a high school diploma or GED credential and acquire occupational skill training that leads to employment. And through our Reintegration of Ex-Offenders grants, we support successful state and local programs that improve workforce outcomes for youth ex-offenders.

    The barriers to opportunity facing young men of color are a moral outrage. As long as the odds remain dauntingly stacked against them, America’s basic bargain is undermined. We can’t give up on these young people. We don’t write people off or kick them to the curb in this country. We help them find pathways to success.

    Speaking more pragmatically, this is an issue of national importance – because we all have a stake in the success of all of us. We’re talking about tomorrow’s leaders and tomorrow’s workforce. We don’t have any human capital to waste. We simply don’t have a person to spare.

    Tom Perez is Secretary of the United States Department of Labor.

  • 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Opportunity for All

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from USDA.gov

    Earlier this week I caught up with Tom Joyner on the Tom Joyner Morning Show to announce $35 million in grant support for high quality research, teaching and Extension activities at 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. Tom, a graduate of Tuskegee University, and I discussed how these additional resources will help support exciting new opportunities and innovative research at 1890s institutions.

    These grants are just a small piece of USDA’s nearly 125 year partnership with 1890s schools to support cutting edge research, innovation and student achievement. Since 2009 alone, USDA has awarded $647 million to 1890s schools.

    In addition to highlighting the great work of these universities with Tom Joyner, I also joined Congresswoman Marcia Fudge—a champion of education and an extraordinary advocate for underserved Americans—to announce the designation of Central State University, a historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, as a land-grant institution.

    Beginning in fiscal year 2016, Central State University will be eligible to receive USDA funding to strengthen its capacity to conduct research, Extension and teaching activities. In the meantime, the university is currently eligible to apply for certain USDA competitive grants and students can apply for scholarships through USDA’s 1890 National Scholars Program (applications are due by March 14, 2014).

    Partnerships with 1890s institutions are critical for two reasons.

    First, working closely with 1890s institutions allows us to work more directly with the next generation of agricultural leaders. Whether they are destined for careers in communications, research, technology, and education, or to work directly in the field as farmers, ranchers, foresters and conservationists, it is important that we build strong relationships early on.

    For example, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, scientists used USDA support to start a program to equip youngsters with the critical thinking skills necessary to prepare them for future careers. This project has increased the number of students entering food and agricultural sciences and in turn benefits rural communities, and all Americans.

    Second, these partnerships further our broader mission at USDA to ensure equal access to programs and services for all of our stakeholders.

    We’ve made significant progress to create a new, lasting era of civil rights at USDA: We have undertaken an initiative to focus civil rights trainings in agencies with large program complaint filings, which has resulted in three consecutive years of the lowest total volume of customer civil rights complaints in USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Rural Development (RD).

    We’ve settled lawsuits brought by African American farmers in Pigford II, and by Native American ranchers and farmers in Keepseagle. We have constructed a unified claims process to provide a path to justice for Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who claim to have faced discrimination by USDA in past decades.

    I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, but our work is not finished. We will continue to work towards a more diverse Department that stands ready to serve all customers with dignity and respect, and build a new legacy of equality, service and opportunity for all.

    Tom Vilsack is Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.

  • Champion of African American History: The Honorable Shirley Chisholm of New York

    Photo provided courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service, 2014.

    I don't measure America by its achievement but by its potential.” – Shirley Chisolm, in her book, “Unbought and Unbossed”

    With her slight build, distinctly precise diction, and relentless energy, Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York will be forever remembered for the ground she broke in Congress, and the ground she laid for millions of women, girls, and African Americans in this country.   

    In honor of her contributions as the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and a tireless advocate for women, African Americans, and folks who are all too often overlooked or underserved, the U.S. Postal Service has recognized Ms. Chisholm with the issuance of their limited-edition 37th Black Heritage Forever Stamp.  

    Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Shirley Chisholm’s childhood was split between New York and Barbados, where she lived with her grandmother.  Upon graduating from Brooklyn College in 1946, she pursued a career in teaching, eventually earning a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University.  She later served as a childcare center director, and an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare.

    Shirley Chisholm was elected in 1968 as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York as the first African American Congresswoman in that history.  She spent seven terms in Congress fighting for social justice and access to quality education for all, while championing the rights and empowerment of women, African Americans, the poor.

    In addition to serving on the Education and Labor Committee, and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Chisholm was also one of the founding members of both the Congressional Black Caucus, and the National Organization of Women, while playing a key role the passage of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) legislation.

    “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”- Shirley Chisolm

    In 1972, Chisholm became widely known across the country when she became the first African American to seek a major party’s nomination for President of the United States.  In doing so, she challenged countless norms and shattered innumerable barriers which had stood since the dawn of our republic.  And it was far from easy.  She had to sue her way into televised debates, and survived multiple assassination attempts along the way.  Ms. Chisolm did not earn the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1972, but she did earn a place in history, along with the boundless respect of millions of Americans for her fundamental refusal to live life within the confines of society’s expectations.  Through her example, future generations gain a better appreciation for what it means to control one’s own destiny.  

    When she left Congress in 1983, Chisholm returned to teaching, accepting a post at Mount Holyoke College.  She died on January 1, 2005 in Ormond Beach, Florida, at the age of 80.

    According to the U.S. Postal Service, the stamp was designed using a painting of Chisholm by artist Robert Shetterly. The portrait is taken from a series of paintings titled “Americans Who Tell the Truth.”

    Valerie Jarrett is Senior Adviser to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.