NEW YORK, April 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- If the United States does not take immediate steps to address the black male crisis, the nation risks losing its "greatest untapped resource," said National Urban League President Marc H. Morial in presenting the league's annual State of Black America (SOBA) report, which assess conditions within the black community, at the National Press Club today. "Empowering black men to reach their full potential is the most serious economic and civil rights challenge we face today. Ensuring their future is critical, not just for the African-American community, but for the prosperity, health and well-being of the entire American family," he said. This year's report, officially titled State of Black America 2007: Portrait of the Black Male, includes op-eds by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Marian Wright Edelman and essays by NAACP Legal Defense Fund head Theodore Shaw and Dr. Silas Lee as well as a foreword by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. It contains the Equality Index, a statistical measurement of disparities or "equality gaps" between blacks and whites across five different categories -- economics, education, health, civic engagement and social justice. According to SOBA, African-American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males and make only 74 percent as much a year. They're nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated, and their average jail sentences tend to be 10 months longer than those of white men. In addition, young black males between the ages of 15 and 34 years are nine times more likely to be killed by firearms and nearly eight times as likely to suffer from AIDS. "I could rattle off the names of African-American men who have overcome the odds and have risen to national prominence until I am blue in the face. But for all the Barack Obamas, Tony Dungys and Colin Powells out there who have broken through economic and color barriers to succeed, there are many more black men who face very limited opportunities and diminished expectations," Morial observed. "There's a crisis afoot in the black male community, and it's not enough to have role models to give them hope. We need a public commitment in the form of concrete policy strategies to help lift them out of their state of underachievement and put them on equal footing with white men in this nation," he said. Overall, African-Americans made negligible gains at best in narrowing the equality divide with whites: the status of blacks was 0.733 or 73.3 percent of that of whites, up slightly from 0.73 in 2006, according to the report. On most fronts -- economics, education, health and civic engagement, the gaps narrowed marginally compared to last year. But in the realm of social justice, blacks lost some ground: they had a status of 0.66 (66 percent) of whites compared to 0.74 (74 percent) in 2006. However, much of that loss is attributable to changes in the way the social justice category was calculated this year over last. Today's press conference also featured appearances by two young men, Nathan Williams of Washington, D.C. and Jonathan Calabrese of Baltimore, Md., whose lives were turned around by the Urban League's Urban Youth Empowerment Program (UYEP), which in 2005 helped nearly 1,200 young blacks get back on track with educational assistance, skills training and on-the-job experience. Despite the success of the UYEP program and others designed to empower disadvantaged blacks, especially young males, at the micro-level, they are just not enough to significantly close the gaps between black and white males. "The Urban League's efforts are tremendous, and we are making progress, but as our report shows, the disparities are not shrinking. And we realize that we cannot do this alone," Morial said. "We have to look to corporations, the government and other organizations to bring about comprehensive solutions to the problems faced by black males, who are dropping out of school at higher rates, dying younger and earning far less than their white counterparts," he said. Despite the less-than-glowing results presented, there were still bright spots. A higher percentage of young black children are enrolled in early childhood education programs such as Head Start than young white children -- 66 percent compared to 64 percent. And the youngest blacks have made strong improvements in the areas of school readiness -- scoring at 94 percent of that of whites, up from 81 percent in 2006. They have even surpassed or nearly matched young white children in terms of some home-literacy activities: 81 percent were taught words or numbers three times a week, compared to 76 percent of whites, and 54 percent were read a story once a week, compared to 56 percent of whites. A major disconnect, however, occurs after elementary school as blacks, especially males, begin to fall behind whites. Disparities in writing proficiency scores widen as blacks grow older. At 4th grade, they perform at a level of 87 percent of whites. By the time they reach 12th grade, their scores are at 74 percent of whites. And after they reach adulthood, they're the most likely to have dropped out -- 15 percent compared to 12 percent of whites. For black males, the percentage rises to 18 percent compared to 14 percent of white males. In an effort to resolve some of these issues facing black men, Morial unveiled five major recommendations for public-policy makers to implement to empower blacks, especially males, to become full-fledged partners in the American Dream: -- Provide comprehensive early childhood education for all American children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds; -- Promote the establishment of more all-male schools that incorporate longer school days and mentoring into their design; -- Create more "second chance" programs to help high-school dropouts and ex-offenders return to the mainstream; -- Restore the federal Summer Jobs Program to its pre-2000 state as a mandatory standalone program with its own budget; -- Drive home the message to children that education pays dividends later in life. "We urge our public officials, policy makers, scholars and others committed to addressing the problems of race, poverty and justice to carefully study The State of Black America 2007 report and use it as a blueprint for finally and fully attacking the problems we all live with," Morial said. "Poverty, the racial divide and social injustice impact not only those who suffer most visibly. They also tear apart the fabric of our nation in ways that damage and diminish us all. Alleviating poverty and injustice is a responsibility we must never forget or abandon," he added. The State of Black America has been released every year since 1976, but 2007 marks the first year in which the book is being distributed nationally to more than 2,500 bookstores, retail and online outlets, including http://www.Amazon.com and http://www.BarnesandNoble.com, through Beckham Publications Group, a minority-owned publisher based in Silver Spring, MD. This is also the third year in which Pfizer has served as the report's sponsor. "We recognize the importance of the African-American family and applaud this year's focus on the African-American male. As an employer recognized for a diverse workforce, Pfizer recognizes equal access to jobs and economic opportunities are also essential elements. Pfizer is proud to be a sponsor of the SOBA report for the third year and will continue to support initiatives to increase access for underserved populations," said Robert Mallett, Senior Vice President, Philanthropy & Stakeholder Advocacy, Pfizer Inc. Following the press conference, the Urban League kicked off its annual NUL Legislative Policy Conference that gives affiliate CEOs the opportunity to promote the league's agenda and programs on Capitol Hill. For a copy of the executive summary, visit www.nul.org/publications/SOBA/Executive%20Summary/2007SOBAEXCSUMMARY.pdf For a webcast of the press conference unveiling the report: visit http://www.visualwebcaster.com/pressclub-StateofBlackAmerica-041707 For more information, contact Ricky Clemons at 212-558-5371. National Urban League (http://www.nul.org) Established in 1910, The Urban League is the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream. Today, the National Urban League, headquartered in New York City, spearheads the non-partisan efforts of its local affiliates. There are over 100 local affiliates of the National Urban League located in 35 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services to more than 2 million people nationwide through programs, advocacy and research.
SOURCE National Urban League