Wearing their signature red ties with images of black handprints, leaders and members of 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a decades-old mentoring program in four Florida counties for Black boys founded by Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, joined a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday as lawmakers formally announced the introduction of House Resolution 1636 — the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.
The underlying goal of the proposal is to better understand and eventually eliminate the educational and social chasms that have made it extraordinarily difficult for Black males to become upward mobile.
House Resolution 1636 would establish a bipartisan 19-member commission to study social problems that plague Black males and recommend solutions — and inform legislation that will be crafted regarding reparations for Black American descendants of slaves.
“All too often, Black males in America are treated as their own class of citizens,” said Wilson, who cited disparities in various aspects of well-being that begin in childhood. “They are rarely given the benefit of the doubt. They are labeled ‘delinquent,’ not ‘rowdy.’ They are ‘hardened criminals,’ not ‘misguided youth.’”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said it’s time to break down the artificial barriers holding back African-American men and boys.
“We stand behind this legislation squarely and look forward to actively supporting it as we move through the process,” Jeffries said. “It’s unfortunate but we understand that when America catches a cold, the Black community catches a fever. When the Black community catches fever, often it’s young black men and boys at the center of the affliction of economic pneumonia. We can’t continue to ignore the realties of this which is why this commission is so important.”
With that, the legislation counts as an attempt to address at a national level hardships that disproportionately affect Black men and boys in a wide range of areas, including employment, health, education, violence, criminal justice, fatherhood and mentorship.
It’s also an effort to make the issue a national priority.
“These hardships have negative consequences for national productivity, especially for Black families and communities,” the resolution notes.
The commission, which would be housed in the federal Commission on Civil Rights Office under the staff director, would meet quarterly with the first meeting occurring within 30 days of all initial commissioners being appointed.
Its membership would consist of one person outside federal employment appointed by each of the Senate and House majority and minority leaders; the chairperson and five members of the Congressional Black Caucus with relevant expertise or committee assignments from housing, healthcare, education, labor and employment, and justice and civil rights; two non-federal employee appointees by the president; and one each from their staffs by the federal Commission on Civil Rights, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and departments of justice, education, labor, housing and urban development, and health and human services
All appointees should have expertise on issues affecting Black males relevant to their appointment, which should be made within 90 days of establishment of the commission.
The Senate, House and CBC appointments will last two years; the others are four-year terms. Commissioners would serve without compensation and may be reappointed.
The resolution, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, calls for an annual report to be submitted to the president, cabinet, Congress and chairs of relevant legislative committees. It also would be posted on a centralized federal website for public access.
Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee told the young men gathered at the news conference that, “You are too good to lose.”
“This is what we’re speaking of in the longevity when we talk about the introduction of reparations,” said Jackson Lee, a senior member of the judiciary committee. “We’re talking about changing the infrastructure and the best practices, and we’re going to lift that discussion to a level that we are of intellect, of analysis, and then giving the roadmap for the comprehensive response to how the African-American community has been treated.”
The real sense of the proposed resolution is that it’s time for America to own its actions, develop a remedy and finally invest in the asset of young African-American men and boys, said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin; James Thompson, president of 100 Black Men of Greater Washington, D.C.; and CBC Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) counted among the speakers at the news conference.
Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath recounted the shooting death of her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, seven years ago.
“My son, like so many others, was the victim of implicit bias and racism,” McBath said. “And I feel an obligation in my core to address these issues on behalf each of the young men that are standing here today, full of potential and destined to do great things. This is legislation whose time has come and I’m so proud to stand with you.”