At-Risk Youths: What Can Obama Really Do?

The president vows to act even without Congress. Let's hope he'll do more than just talk.

An antiviolence protest in Chicago (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Right now the White House and the Department of Justice haven’t yet rolled out their plans for at-risk youths. It is expected that Obama will unveil his proposals during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, coming this Aug. 27 and 28.

If past is prologue, the president might talk about bolstering the Becoming a Man program, a Chicago-based initiative tied to low-income high schools, as mentioned on RealClearPolitics. Obama might do more with the Youth Jobs+ program that he launched in the spring to encourage summer employment for teens.

He might discuss appointing a full-time Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms director to help bolster the agency that’s supposed to manage gun control in the states. But the agency hasn’t had one in six years because of congressional machinations. Perhaps if there were a full-time ATF director (with a staff to back the position), those who buy and sell guns illegally could actually be prosecuted under existing laws.

Maybe the president will endorse putting more money in programs like Head Start or will turn to programs that have worked in some cities and look for funding to help duplicate them in other cities and municipalities.

While some may find these actions to be small ball compared with the enormity of the youth-violence problem, any action is preferred to the usual “action”: words. It seems there are always words about youth violence. Words of sadness. Words of shame. Words of hope that somehow this can be turned around.

The September covers of Ebony magazine declare loudly how we need to “Save Our Sons” and how “We Are All Trayvon” as the magazine itself jumps into the conversation, pushing for words to become action. But I worry about what physically can be done — without Congress, without grand, sweeping changes — when you have statistics like this from the Children’s Defense Fund: In 2011, eight children died of violence every day, and four of those eight were black.

I don’t know if another mentoring program or another “national discussion about gun violence” or a reinvestment in Head Start will solve what was created by systemic poverty, chronic unemployment, poor infrastructure, failing schools and lack of community resources in impoverished areas.

Our kids don’t kill other kids in a vacuum. Their decisions come out of the myriad complications that come from growing up black in America. I don’t know if President Obama will come up with something that he and the executive branch alone can do to fix the problem, but I know a lot of people who would like to see him try.

To try to act and not just give us words, so that more of our boys can make it out of their teen years unscathed. So that more of our boys can go from being teens to men.

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine.