When he was elected, Mr. Obama was celebrated by many Americans for two historic and important qualities. First, he was perceived as an important symbol that represented America’s triumph over the era in our history when Blacks were treated as second-class citizens. There’s no doubt that America has nurtured and given opportunity to exceptional Black minds, including the two outstanding Black Secretaries of State who served under President Bush. But never before had a predominantly white country elected a Black man as its leader, and especially a country that had been so painfully tested by racial strife. Second, he set a shining example of the modern, stable Black family. He and his wife and their two beautiful children were – and continue to be – a model for all to aspire.
Paul Tough interviewed President Obama for an article that was recently published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The column, titled “What Does Obama Really Believe In?” was a precursor to his newly-released book, How Children Succeed. Mr. Tough observed that Obama has abandoned speaking about the poor, pointing out that “Obama hasn’t made a single speech about poverty as President, and if you visit barackobama.com these days, you would be hard-pressed to find any reference to the subject whatsoever.” If he doesn’t talk about poverty, then he doesn’t address its root causes, which in the Black community are closely tied to the lack of family structure and the absence of fathers. Obama would be the perfect person to lead a cultural revolution on this issue; but, like the fathers themselves, he has been conspicuously absent.
Mr. Tough’s book focuses on the educational challenges that exist today and how to overcome them. His research concludes that parenting is critically important to the success of children, and that “parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment.” He goes on to state that “The effect of good parenting is not just emotional or psychological, the neuroscientists say; It is biochemical. “ In addition, the book also emphasizes the importance of character development to the success of a child.
Former Congressman Kweisi Mfume, former head of the NAACP, was asked by radio host and author Larry Elder “Between the presence of white racism, and the absence of black fathers, which is the bigger problem?” Mfume’s answer was simple: fathers. Unfortunately, Obama has been invisible in the fight to establish stronger families in Black America. You have not seen him speaking from the pulpit of a church, expressing the vital importance of taking responsibility for one’s children, and stressing the basic principle that without solid, positive parenting, children are most likely doomed. Obama understands this as well as anyone, yet there is hardly an utterance from our first Black president on the crisis that endangers not only Black America, but all Americans.
In his column, Mr. Tough mentioned that in 2007, Obama acknowledged that “changing the odds in our cities will require humility in what we can accomplish and patience with our progress.” Obama stated that real change would take more than that and then added “Most importantly, it will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States.” And yet when I asked Mr. Tough whether Obama had addressed the issues of parenting and character in the Black community, he admitted with much regret that Mr. Obama had barely worked on the issue.
Despite the immense hope for this President when he took the oath of office, no one expected him to single-handedly heal the problems of the family structure and education within the Black community. But even in his own words, he knew that he had to undertake the challenge with a sustained effort. Unfortunately and sadly, our President has spent more time golfing than tackling this problem.
What a loss for our country. What a failure.