Press Releases

Washington D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the Brookings Institute to discuss his role in the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. See below for highlights and watch the full interview here.

On why the Commission’s work matters:

“First of all, it's important to point out [that] when I was in the state legislature, we actually created a commission like this for Florida, which is active and operating. And I did it with then State Senator Frederica Wilson, who now is Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is also my counterpart in the House [in] our creation of this last year at the federal level. 

“I think there's two reasons why this is important, and the first is it goes to the identity of our country as a nation where we believe — it is in our founding principles — that all people are created with inherent rights to life, to liberty, to pursue happiness, to achieve success as they define it. And second, because the reality of it is that we're [in] a great power competition right now with China. They have [more than] three times as many people as we do. We can't afford to leave anyone behind. 

“So for those two reasons, it's essential for us anytime we identify any group of Americans who face some disproportionate amount of challenges or underperformance — be it economic, educational, or social — to identify why it is that that's happening, and what are the possible ways to address it. Obviously, not all of that falls under government. But just to truly understand it beyond the anecdotal, beyond the political, beyond, guesswork — to actually have serious people look at it on a consistent, ongoing basis and define it — is critical to being able to solve it. 

“The bottom line is that across every metric, African-American men and boys are underperforming the general population in terms of marriage rates, in terms of family formation, in terms of the income educational achievement, and they're overrepresented in the justice system. So why is that? What is the answer to it? What are the component aspects of our society that are leading to that outcome? And what could possibly be done to begin to address it?”

On why it is important to address racial disparities in a bipartisan way:

“We need to keep it [bipartisan] because the practical truth is that anything that becomes partisan in this country immediately splits our country in half. We are deeply polarized. And so we struggle to make progress … and achieve anything on topics that are polarizing. Both because of the nature of our political system — the way our legislative branch, for example, is structured, at the state and federal level — and then also because it’s hard to rally people around something that they believe is a cause that only matters to one side, and therefore you have to be on the opposite side of it. 

“So I think this is critical. Again, I think every American, no matter how you're registered to vote or what is your ideology … should be concerned that there is a segment of our population that, from a statistical standpoint, is not achieving their full potential for some reason. We need to identify what those reasons are and begin to address them, to the extent government can.”

On the most significant racial disparities in American society:

“There are racists, unfortunately, in every society in the world, and that includes our own, and that’s certainly always going to be a factor. There are people out there that simply don't like people that look different from them. And that is an unfortunate feature of our human nature. Obviously, our laws should not continue with that. 

“But that's not the only thing. Indifference or being unaware of what life is like for other people, for a lot of different reasons, is [also] a big problem. The truth of the matter is we still have [indifferent people] in positions of authority, who are not bad people, they just honestly are not aware. We don't fully appreciate some of these challenges.

“To give you a very practical example of it, let's say you're a young man, whether it's African-American, Hispanic, or from any background. You're being raised by your grandmother, because your mom’s working two jobs and your dad’s never been a part of your life. You live in a dangerous neighborhood in substandard housing. And you go to the public school that the government makes you go to. But in that school, you don't really have access to all the opportunities. You don’t know anything about internships. You couldn't afford it anyway, or study abroad, for that matter. The time comes to take a standardized test and you can't afford the expensive courses that people are taking to increase their SAT scores enough to get them into school. So there's a whole world out there that you're not even exposed to. 

“I didn’t face even half of the challenges that many today face, but I didn't have any internships or study abroad opportunities. My parents couldn't afford it. And then when the time comes to get into college, or later on apply for a job, your resume, no matter how smart and talented you are, doesn't stack up. Because you're competing against people who've spent years with internships and study abroad and all kinds of opportunities that you may not even be aware of.

“That's an impediment. It's one of the reasons why one of the things I've been supportive of is school choice. Not because I'm anti-public schools. I went to public schools. Some of the best public schools in America are public schools in South Florida. But I also have seen firsthand — not because I read about it — someone be taken through an opportunity scholarship, which is funded through corporate donations to Step Up For [Students] in Florida, be able to go to a private school or a school of their parents' choice, where they are exposed to all kinds of things that expand their horizons. Suddenly, they realize there's this whole other world out there — job and career opportunities that they may never have been aware of if their life had been isolated to just the 15, 20 square blocks of their neighborhood and their local community. 

“That is a life changing opportunity that suddenly sparks all sorts of interest. I've seen it happen over and over again. People who never thought about becoming an engineer or a pilot, or going into the service academies, or going into law or science, whatever it may be, because they didn't even know that those jobs existed, because they don't know anyone who has jobs like that. To me, that's extraordinarily important, and it's one of those things that I think are underappreciated. How much value that has in young people's lives, to be exposed to those opportunities and to expand horizons early on.”

On why the Commission focuses on black men and boys in particular:

“I don't think anyone lives in a vacuum. What impacts men ultimately impacts women. What impacts fathers ultimately impacts children, whether they’re boys or girls. What impacts a husband ultimately impacts a wife. 

“The reason why we’re so focused on [men and boys] acutely is that there are some unique aspects to the challenges that black men and boys face in terms of the incarceration rate [and] the early interaction with the criminal justice system, which is stigmatizing. It's complicated, because it doesn't fit neatly in the box of is it racism in terms of 1960s style racism or is it just indifference? 

“I’ll give you a real world example. I know a 16-year-old young man. He’s been around my son his whole life and lives in a challenging neighborhood, and he had an unfortunate interaction with the criminal justice system. Now, had we not gotten involved, he would have been represented in that juvenile justice system by a public defender-type individual, and he probably would have been asked to plead [guilty] to some sort of offense, which would then become part of his record. Had that same offense, which was not a big one, been committed by someone whose father and mother have professional salaries, they would have hired a really good lawyer, who once used to be a prosecutor, and they [would have] got the thing dismissed with the agreement of sealing the records and some sort of community service. 

“That right there – At 16, 17, 18 years of age – is a major diversion point in the lives of two people, simply because one of them was put up for, or knew about, or had access to, a different outcome than somebody else. And those circumstances seem to be more acute and chronic in African-American boys and men than in the population in general. 

“It has a direct impact on the well-being of women, be they their daughters, their wives, their partners and spouses. … Obviously, [the program is] modeled after what we did in Florida, which has been highly successful. And frankly, some of the biggest promoters of this effort have been African-American women leaders in the community. 

“I would point to something Frederica Wilson started with [the 500 Role Models of Excellence Project] in South Florida, which seeks to partner young Hispanic and African American males with role model figures in the community that look like them, come from where they came from, and have achieved success. [Mentorships are] a way of saying, ‘You can be anything you want to be. Here's how to get there.’”

On what a successful elimination of toxic racial disparities would look like:

“Let me give you a real world example again, another young man that we've known since he was eight or nine years of age, my son and he have been playing together in the same sports teams and parks and so forth since they were eight or nine years old, they’re now close to 17 years of age. This young man, in my opinion, is a genius. Unfortunately, he's, to this point in his life, used that genius for things like counterfeiting and drug sales and illegality. But it didn't have to be that way. And it doesn't have to be that way. 

“He has some unique aspects of his background and lives in a very tough neighborhood, which he wishes he didn't have to go to every night. His brother was killed a few years ago by a group that killed him because he happens to live two blocks away in a different building. That's what the fight is over, and now he's been a consistent target. He's a big, strong kid, which makes him an even bigger target, and he turned to this behavior because he sees it as the most immediate and effective application of his genius and ambition. He has ambition, and he has ability, but the only horizon he sees before him that fits within the paradigm of where he lives is that one. 

“Success looks like him, instead — not just living in a better and safer neighborhood — but being in an academic and educational social environment where he has the opportunity to apply that genius to something productive, not destructive. 

“And that's a hard thing to do, but we have to do it. Because if you don’t, then what I believe is a genius young man, his gifts, his talents will be stolen from the country, not to mention just the personal tragedy [of it all]. The country will be deprived of the unique skills and talents of an individual who's an American, and we just can't afford it. At this time in our history, we need everyone. We can't afford to leave anyone behind.”