What Obama Missed in his Trayvon Martin Speech

In his personal and heartfelt speech yesterday on the Trayvon Martin tragedy, President Obama did a great job explaining why “the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Had he stuck to that theme, it would have been a fine speech.

The problem is that he ventured into the tricky area of long-term solutions.

Specifically, he spoke about the need to “bolster and reinforce our African American boys…who need help [and] who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement,” and he asked: “Is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”

This is where he stumbled. He completely ignored the most important investment in a kid’s life— responsible parenting—and the troubling reality that, according to government statistics, 72 percent of African-American children are born to unmarried mothers.

As reported in The Root, an African-American Web site that is a division of the Washington Post, these are the consequences of fatherless homes:


  •    63 percent of youth suicides
  •    90 percent of all homeless and runaway children
  •    85 percent of all children who show behavior disorders
  •    80 percent of rapists with anger problems
  •    71 percent of all high school dropouts
  •    75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical-abuse centers
  •    85 percent of all youths in prison


As the Web site reported, these statistics apply to African-American homes in disproportionate numbers: “Compared with the 72 percent in our [African-American] communities, 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent.”

There is nothing a government can do to substitute for a missing parent.

So, for all his courage in discussing the emotional and historical context of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, when he ventured into “solutions,” our president failed to confront the crucial and vexing problem of African-American children born in fatherless homes.

That's too bad. As a responsible parent himself, the president ought to know the immeasureable value of tough love.

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's saving that message for another day.