Congress has passed a bill to establish a commission dedicated to exploring social ills affecting Black men and boys in the United States.
The House of Representatives passed the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act on Monday with a 368-1 vote. It is headed to the White House to be signed by President Donald Trump. The measure is a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
If signed into law, the act would establish a 19-member commission to examine “the social disparities that disproportionately affect black males in America,” according to a press release from Wilson’s office. Rubio and Wilson, both representing Florida, established a similar program in their state. Wilson originally proposed the bill in March 2019, but it was prioritized after the death of George Floyd led to protests and racial tension across the country, the Miami Herald reported.
“I am elated that this legislation, which I have been fighting for several years to pass, is now poised to become national law. The commission will review police brutality, gun violence, fatherhood, recruiting and training black male teachers, and even sneakers, which play an important role in the lives of black boys. Welfare reform and the 1994 crime bill, which includes the controversial three strikes provision and harsh sentencing guidelines, also will be revisited. These federal policies left a devastating impact on black men and boys in America,” Wilson said in her press release.
She added, “the commission’s underlying goal is to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and to better understand and eventually eliminate the educational and social chasms that have made it extraordinarily difficult for black males to become upwardly mobile.”
Wilson argued racism is the most dangerous issue Black men face due to dehumanizing stereotypes that cast them as dangerous and aggressive.
“Too often they are perceived as criminals by the time they reach the age of five. They’re labeled delinquent, not rowdy. They are hardened criminals, not misguided youth. Their very existence is often seen as a threat. It is a tragic reality that black males in America are treated as their own class of citizens,” she said.
Rubio said it was “imperative” the country addresses systemic racism. He joined forces with fellow senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris to propose a similar commission in June, the Florida Daily reported.
“America is more successful when its citizens have equal access to economic opportunity and prosperity, and this is particularly relevant for young black men,” Rubio stated. “As we confront the challenges of the 21st century, we will need to rely on the talents and contributions of every American. I applaud the House for passing the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act, and I urge the President to sign it into law without delay. I was pleased to lead this legislation in the Senate, and I look forward to the work the Commission will do to address the racial and economic disparities affecting our communities today.”
The bill passed the day after a horse-drawn carriage pulled the casket of Georgia Rep. John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, where the former civil rights activist was brutally beaten during the infamous Selma to Montgomery march on March 7, 1965. Lewis died on July 17 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. The loss made the passage a “bittersweet” moment for Wilson.
“The final passage of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act is a little bittersweet for me because my dear friend and colleague, Congressman John Lewis, did not live to witness this landmark day,” the congresswoman’s statement said. “He was one of its fiercest advocates and devoted countless hours during my tenure in Congress to inspiring hundreds of boys who are members of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentoring and dropout prevention program I founded 30 years ago. I am honor to share this legacy with him.”