EDITORIAL: Clear a path for your brother

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A student eyes the Emancipation Proclamation as the President gave students from William R. Harper High School in Chicago a tour of the Oval Office, June 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which he announced last week, is a well-named first step in a lofty goal — calling on everyone to embrace the much needed empowerment of boys and young men of color. Things turn out so much better when we take care of each other. Now that we’ve seen a black man become the most powerful leader in the world, we know that skin color doesn’t determine one’s potential. But pathways can, and this initiative is all about clearing the pathways.

Too many young men of color begin life on a path already cluttered and blocked by circumstances not of their making. It’s nice when people with tools and trucks are willing to come along and haul some of the debris away. Sometimes all a kid needs is to see someone bigger moving stuff out of his way to make him suddenly realize there’s something up ahead. Add that one special ingredient — knowing somebody cares enough to clear the path — and he is on his way. Everyone wants to live in a world in which men of all colors are working in satisfying jobs, raising healthy families, enjoying life, and contributing to society, instead of becoming a drain on it by sitting in prison or abandoning their children because they never found a way to escape the poverty they were born into.

Why is “My Brother’s Keeper” such a great name? It’s no mystery why people of color are disadvantaged in America, but there are those who refuse to acknowledge it. Let’s stop debating why and just fix it. The name, of course, harkens back to the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

Cain was a farmer and his brother Abel was a shepherd. Cain harvested his crops and gave some to God, who apparently didn’t like being offered vegetables.

Meanwhile, Abel killed a sheep and gave that to God, which he loved. This made Cain mad, so he killed Abel. Later, God said, “Where’s Abel?” (as if he didn’t know) and Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God, angry, sent Cain packing.

The point is, life makes no sense sometimes. For example, who knows why God doesn’t like veggies? Did he even bother to tell Cain that? It doesn’t matter. Cain needed to stop dwelling on it and move on. He should’ve been his brother’s keeper.

Instead, he became a murderer and was forced to wander homeless for the rest of his life, with some kind of mark on his head. In the end, life works out much better for everyone when we are our brother’s keeper.

No one knows what great things Abel might have accomplished, had he lived. In those days, according to the Bible, people lived to be hundreds and hundreds of years old. Maybe, at age 572, Abel would’ve found a cure for cancer.

Sometimes our president is too smart, trying to solve the world with long-term investments and solutions. But Americans are impatient. We have a very short history. We don’t have time for the “big picture.” We see a first-day glitched-out health insurance website and call the entire plan a failure. Obama seems to see problem solving as something you begin now, so that your children’s children will have a better life. It’s logical, but we sort of want everything now, for us, today, this minute. And that’s how we solve things. With Band-Aids.

So it’s good that Obama is finally focusing on boys and young men of color, instead of looking too deeply at the root causes of their troubles and trying to find a cure for all of society’s ills. Race is the issue, but race is swarming with historical complexity that we simply cannot solve. Maybe the best we can do is clear pathways for the people who are stuck. (end)

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