In late July, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act, introduced by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, to establish a 19-member commission examining the social disparities that disproportionately affect Black males in America. Led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Senate unanimously passed a companion bill, S. 2163, on June 25. The two lawmakers created a similar commission when they served together in Florida’s state legislature.
“I am elated that this legislation, which I have been fighting for several years to pass, is now poised to become national law. The commission will review police brutality, gun violence, fatherhood, recruiting and training black male teachers, and even sneakers, which play an important role in the lives of black boys. Welfare reform and the 1994 crime bill, which includes the controversial three strikes provision and harsh sentencing guidelines, also will be revisited. These federal policies left a devastating impact on black men and boys in America,” said Congresswoman Wilson. “The commission’s underlying goal is to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and to better understand and eventually eliminate the educational and social chasms that have made it extraordinarily difficult for black males to become upwardly mobile.”
The Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act establishes a permanent, bipartisan commission within the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Its 19 members will include congressional lawmakers, executive branch appointees, issue experts, activists, and other stakeholders who will examine social disparities affecting black men and boys in America. Based on its findings, the commission will issue policy recommendations to Congress, the White House, and federal agencies. The bipartisan, bicameral Caucus on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, which Congresswoman Wilson founded and co-chairs, will craft legislation to implement those recommendations.
“Perhaps the most dangerous issue facing Black boys in our country is racism itself. Too often they are perceived as criminals by the time they reach the age of five. They’re labeled delinquent, not rowdy. They are hardened criminals, not misguided youth. Their very existence is often seen as a threat. It is a tragic reality that black males in America are treated as their own class of citizens,” Congresswoman Wilson continued.
That point hits close to home for at least one member of Congress.
“Almost eight years ago, my son, Jordan, was shot and killed while sitting in the back seat of the car at a gas station with his friends. A man didn’t like the ‘loud music’ they were playing,” said Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), an original co-sponsor of the bill. “On this day, while we look back at the life and legacy of John Lewis and remark at how far we’ve come, I must also look toward a future without my son and I see how far we still must go. This commission will search for ways to address the hurdles and inequities that many Black men and boys continue to face, and help us all work together to create a better world for our children, for our grandchildren, and for American families across the country.”
The plight og Black men and boys is reflected in social outcomes in such areas as education, criminal justice, health care and employment. More than one out of every six Black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life. Low rates of high school retention among black male students directly relate to the high rates of joblessness and incarceration. More than two-thirds of black male dropouts end up serving time in state or federal prison. And while black males overall make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, they represent nearly 40 percent of all men serving time in state and federal prisons.
“The final passage of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act is a little bittersweet for me because my dear friend and colleague, Congressman John Lewis, did not live to witness this landmark day. He was one of its fiercest advocates and devoted countless hours during my tenure in Congress to inspiring hundreds of boys who are members of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentoring and dropout prevention program I founded 30 years ago. I am honor to share this legacy with him,” Congresswoman Wilson added.
The legislation is cosponsored by more than 200 members of Congress and has been endorsed by more than 20 renowned civil rights leaders and organizations, including Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, actor Omari Hardwick, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Council of the Great City Schools, Teach for America, the National Football League, Reform Alliance, Teach for America, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc.
“America is undergoing a transformative movement, as we confront and combat the racial injustice and police brutality that are killing hundreds of black Americans, particularly black men and boys,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “Today, the Democratic House will advance our drumbeat of action to achieve justice by passing H.R.1636 to establish a Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, led by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson: a warrior for justice on behalf of the voiceless and vulnerable. This commission will be a critical force for acknowledging the institutional racism that black men and boys face every day in America – and then to working to end it.”