Bringing Black men back home

President Obama’s speech on fatherhood, delivered in 2008, called out men who had deserted their families and communities — “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

“You and I know how true this is in the African-American community,” he added. “We know that more than half of all Black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled — doubled — since we were children.”

But if fathers are willing to do their part, he said, “our government should meet them halfway.”

That’s precisely what President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal judge shoots down Texas proclamation allowing one ballot drop-off location per county Nine people who attended Trump rally in Minnesota contracted coronavirus Schiff: If Trump wanted more infections ‘would he be doing anything different?’ MORE’s policies have done. His First Step Act, in particular, is bringing Black men back home, where they can put newly learned job skills to good use, reconnect with their families and rebuild their communities.

The First Step Act corrected many of the injustices of the Clinton Crime Bill and others (including ones authored by then-Sen. Joe BidenJoe BidenFederal judge shoots down Texas proclamation allowing one ballot drop-off location per county Sanders endorses more than 150 down-ballot Democrats Debate commission cancels Oct. 15 Trump-Biden debate MORE), injustices that disproportionately affected Black men, such as the 100-to-1 crack cocaine disparity.

In a report on the one-year anniversary of the First Step Act’s passage, the Sentencing Project noted that thousands of inmates benefited from the criminal justice reforms in the new law — and 91 percent of them were Black. And 98 percent were male.

The Act includes other sentencing reforms, eliminating such things as mandatory life sentences for third-strike drug convictions and expanded compassionate and elderly release for sick and older inmates who no longer pose any kind of a threat. It allows for good-time credit, so that eligible inmates can earn time off of their sentences.

The Trump-backed law is doing more than just bringing Black men home; it’s also helping them to reclaim their lives. It funds rehabilitation efforts to prepare prisoners to return to society. The Bureau of Prisons now helps inmates apply for the official documents they’ll need once they’re free, and for the government assistance that can help them make the transition.

Of course, one of the biggest hurdles former inmates face is unemployment; the rate is 35.2 percent for Black men who have been incarcerated. The unemployment rate for Black women who have been to prison is 43.6 percent. 

That’s why the White House has announced plans to cut the unemployment rate for former inmates to single digits within five years. The Bureau of Prisons is increasing its efforts to work with the business community to connect newly released workers to jobs.

“Now we must make sure that the Americans returning from prison get a true second chance,” President Trump said last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made all of this harder; the state-imposed lockdowns have caused immeasurable damage to our economy. Unemployment spiked higher in three months of lockdown than it did during two years of recession, Pew Research notes. And it was highest for Black men and Black women. That’s why efforts like the White House’s are so important.

It’s not just about the jobs; it’s about lives restored and communities rebuilt.

Who can forget the story of Matthew Charles, one of the very first Black men to benefit from the First Step Act? Having serving 21 years in prison, he was released in 2016, came home to his community and built a new life for himself — but his release turned out to be a mistake, and he was re-incarcerated in 2018. But under the First Step Act, his sentence was modified, and he was released; President Trump, in his 2019 State of the Union address, welcomed him home.

Thousands of Black men are now back home because of President Trump’s policies. They’re being fathers, husbands, sons and brothers — restoring lives and families and communities.

As President Obama said in his fatherhood speech, it won’t always be easy: “The rains will still come and the winds will still blow.” But the foundations of our families will be strong enough to withstand the gale.

Richard A. Johnson III, Ed.D., is the director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Booker T. Washington Initiative which examines the effects of public policy on African American communities.

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