Washington D.C.- US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has joined the Brookings Institute to discuss his role to the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. See below for highlights and watch the full interview here.
Why the work of the Commission is important:
“First of all, it is important to emphasize [that] when I was in the state legislature, we actually created a commission like this for Florida, which is active and operational. And I did it with then-state senator Frederica Wilson, who’s now congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who’s also my counterpart in the House [in] our creation last year at the federal level.
“I think there are two reasons why this is important, and the first is that it’s about our country’s identity as a nation that we believe in – it’s in our founding principles – that all people are created with inherent rights to life, freedom, to pursue happiness, to achieve success as they define it. And second, because the reality is that we are [in] a big power competition right now with China. They have [more than] three times more people than us. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind.
“So for both of those reasons, it’s critical for us whenever we identify a group of Americans facing a disproportionate amount of challenge or underachievement — whether economic, educational, or social — to identify why that is. is happening and what are the possible ways to fix it. Obviously this is not all up to the government. But just to really understand it beyond the anecdotal, beyond the political, beyond the conjecture – for serious people to consistently and continuously examine it and define it – is essential to being able to solve it.
“The bottom line is that in all parameters, African American men and boys are underperforming compared to the general population in terms of marriage rates, in terms of family formation, in terms of educational income, and they are overrepresented in the justice system. So why is this? What is the answer to this? What are the constituent aspects of our society that lead to this outcome? And what could be done to begin to address it?”
Why it’s important to address racial disparities in a bipartisan way:
“We have to keep it [bipartisan] because the practical truth is that anything that becomes partisan in this country immediately splits our country in two. We are deeply polarized. And so we struggle to move forward… and achieve anything on polarizing topics. Both because of the nature of our political system—the way our legislative branch, for example, is structured, both state and federal—and also because it’s difficult to rally people around of something they believe to be a cause that only matters to one side, and therefore you must be on the opposite side.
“So I think that’s critical. Again, I think every American, no matter how you’re registered to vote or what your ideology is…should be concerned that there’s a segment of our population which, statistically, is not reaching its full potential for whatever reason. We need to identify those reasons and begin to address them, as much as the government can.”
On the most significant racial disparities in American society:
“There are racists, unfortunately, in every society in the world, including ours, and that will certainly always be a factor. There are people who just don’t like people who look different from each other. “them. And that’s an unfortunate feature of our human nature. Obviously, our laws shouldn’t continue like this.”
“But that’s not the only thing. Indifference or ignorance of what other people’s lives are like, for many different reasons, is [also] a big problem. The truth is we still have [indifferent people] in positions of authority, who aren’t bad people, they just don’t know about it. We do not fully appreciate some of these challenges.
“To give you a very concrete example, let’s say you’re a young man, whether he’s African American, Hispanic, or whatever. You are raised by your grandmother, because your mother has two jobs and your father was never a part of your life. You live in a dangerous neighborhood in substandard housing. And you go to public school where the government sends you to. But in this school, you don’t really have access to all the opportunities. You don’t know anything about internships. You couldn’t afford it anyway, or study abroad, for that matter. Now is the time to take a standardized test, and you can’t afford the expensive classes people take to raise their SAT scores enough to get them into school. So there’s a whole world out there that you’re not even exposed to.
“I didn’t even complete half of the challenges that many face today, but I didn’t have any internships or opportunities to study abroad. My parents couldn’t afford it. And then , when it comes time to get into college, or later apply for a job, your resume, no matter how smart and talented you are, doesn’t pile up. Because you’re competing with people who have spent years with internships and study abroad and all sorts of opportunities you might not even be aware of.
“It’s an obstacle. That’s one of the reasons why one of the things I’ve supported is school choice. Not because I’m against public schools. I went to public schools. Some of the best public schools in America are public schools in South Florida. But I also saw with my own eyes – not because I read about it – someone benefiting from an opportunity scholarship, which is funded by corporate donations to Step Up For [Students] in Florida, being able to go to a private school or a school of their parents’ choice, where they are exposed to all kinds of things that broaden their horizons. Suddenly they realize there’s this whole other world out there – job and career opportunities they might never have known about if their lives had been isolated within 15 or 20 blocks. of their neighborhood and local community.
“It’s a life-changing opportunity that suddenly sparks all kinds of interest. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. People who never thought of becoming an engineer or a pilot, or getting into service academies, or getting into law or science, whatever it is, because they didn’t even know those jobs existed, because they don’t know anyone who has jobs like that. it’s extremely important, and it’s one of those things that I think is underestimated, what value does it have in the lives of young people, to be exposed to these opportunities and to broaden their horizons from the start.”
Why the Commission is focusing on black men and boys in particular:
“I don’t think anyone lives in a vacuum. What impacts men impacts women. What impacts fathers impacts children, whether they are boys or girls. What impacts a husband ultimately impacts a wife.
“The reason we focus so much on [men and boys] is that there are unique aspects to the challenges black men and boys face in terms of incarceration rates [and] early interaction with the criminal justice system, which is stigmatizing. It’s complicated, because it doesn’t fit neatly into the category of 1960s-style racism or is it just indifference?
“I will give you a concrete example. I know a 16 year old young man. He’s been around my son all his life and lives in a tough neighborhood, and he’s had an unfortunate interaction with the criminal justice system. Now, if we hadn’t been involved, he would have been represented in this juvenile justice system by a public defender type person, and probably would have been asked to plead [guilty] to some sort of offence, which would then be part of his file. If this same offense, which was not serious, had been committed by someone whose father and mother have professional salaries, they would have hired a very good lawyer, who was once a prosecutor, and they [would have] got the thing thrown out with the deal to seal the records and some sort of community service.
“This – at 16, 17, 18 – is a major diversion point in two people’s lives, simply because one of them was set up for, or knew about, or had access to, a different outcome than someone else.And these circumstances appear to be more acute and chronic in African American boys and men than in the general population.
“It has a direct impact on the well-being of women, be it their daughters, wives, partners and spouses. … Obviously, [the program is] on the model of what we did in Florida, which was a great success. And frankly, some of the biggest promoters of this effort have been African American female community leaders.
“I would like to point out something that Frederica Wilson started with [the 500 Role Models of Excellence Project] in South Florida, which seeks to match young Hispanic and African American men with role models in the community who look like them, are from where they come from and have been successful. [Mentorships are] a way of saying, ‘You can be anything you want to be. Here’s how to get there.
What a successful elimination of toxic racial disparities would look like:
“Let me give you a concrete example again, another young man we’ve known since he was eight or nine years old, he and my son have played together on the same sports teams and parks and so on since that time. “they were eight or nine years old, they are now almost 17. This young man, in my opinion, is a genius. Unfortunately, at this point in his life, he used this genius for things like counterfeiting, selling drugs and illegality. But it didn’t have to be that way. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
“He has unique aspects to his background and lives in a very tough neighborhood, where he wishes he didn’t have to go every night. Her brother was killed a few years ago by a mob who killed him because he happened to live two blocks away in another building. That’s what the fight is over, and now he’s a constant target. He’s a big, strong kid, which makes him an even bigger target, and he’s turned to this behavior because he sees it as the most immediate and effective application of his genius and of his ambition. He has ambition and he has ability, but the only horizon he sees ahead of him that fits the paradigm of where he lives is that.
“Success is more like him – not just living in a better, safer neighborhood – but being in an academic and educational social environment where he has the opportunity to apply that genius to something productive, not destructive.
“And it’s a hard thing to do, but we have to do it. Because if you don’t, then what I believe to be a young man of genius, his gifts, his talents will be stolen from the country, not to mention personal tragedy. [of it all]. The country will be deprived of the unique skills and talents of an American individual, and we simply cannot afford that. At this time in our history, we need everyone. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind.