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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 28, 2005
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a White House Fellows Alumni Association Luncheon
United States Chamber of Commerce
11:58 A.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, Julie. That was a very, very nice introduction. I really appreciate it, coming from you. Julie does know what it's like to be a child of the President, and, in fact, George and I know what that's like, too. (Laughter.) I'll have to say, I think being President is hardest.
Being First Lady is really a huge privilege. I have the opportunity to meet people all over our country, to see wonderful things that Americans are doing everywhere in our country. And then I have a forum, a podium, as Lady Bird Johnson used to say, that I can use to talk about things that interest me, and what -- especially, of course, education and other issues that have interested me my whole life.
So I want to thank you, Julie. Thank you for your grace. I want to thank Janet Eissenstat for her leadership of the White House Fellows program. And special thanks to Barbara Anderson for leading the alumni association.
Forty years ago, when President Johnson started the White House Fellows program, he started it to bring talented Americans into public life. Today, White House Fellows thrive in every area of American life. Alumni serve in the halls of Congress and in the highest levels of the military. You are leaders in the corporate world, and in the non-profit world. Journalism, academia, and the arts all benefit from the leadership and talent and energy of former White House Fellows.
I'd like to enlist your energy and your ethic of service in another cause that's very important to me, and that's helping America's youth. Helping America's youth is about helping all young people -- boys and girls, children and teens -- grow up to be healthy and successful adults. Children look to adults for guidance in tackling the challenges that come with growing up. Risky behaviors, including drug, alcohol and tobacco use, violence and early sexual activity, are still among the top causes of disease and early death among youth. More children are growing up without an involved, committed and responsible father in their lives. And studies show that an overwhelming number of violent criminals in the United States are males who grew up without a dad.
All across America, caring adults are helping young people develop the strong character to make responsible and healthy decisions. Yesterday we hosted a conference at Howard University on -- a White House Conference on Helping America's Youth. And a White House Fellow who works in my office -- Ron Clark -- was instrumental in organizing the event over the last nine months. And I want to give Ron a special applause. Thank you, Ron. Thanks so much. (Applause.) And now, White House Fellow Steve Parker will be coming on board to do -- coordinate all the follow-up work from the conference.
At Howard, at the conference, we welcomed people who are leading efforts to help youth across America, and then the researchers who study the challenges that children face and evaluate the programs that show promise in addressing those challenges.
One great program that was represented yesterday is in Los Angeles, where a Catholic priest, Father Gregory Boyle, runs Homeboy Industries. He employs former gang members in homegrown businesses, including a silk-screening business, a caf , and a bakery. The young men and women who work at Homeboy Industries develop job skills that then give them a way out of gang life. And he said this to me when I visited Homeboy earlier this year, he said, this is too simple, and it's not -- it doesn't take care of everyone's problem, but he said if people have stable, secure jobs, it really makes a big difference, and that these gang members, former gang members -- many of whom are unemployable because they've dropped out of school, they're not educated, they've been incarcerated, they're tattooed with gang tattoos all over their faces -- if they can get a job -- which is what he does, give them a job at Homeboy Industries -- then they really will leave gang life, that the anxiety and the fear associated with dealing drugs and gang life is so profound, even though they might make more money, they'd rather have a real job.
He also has two tattoo laser removers, and he uses L.A. doctors pro bono who come so that all of these young men and women, as they work at Homeboy, can get their tattoos removed, they get the skills from working at Homeboy, and then they can move on to a real job. He's really terrific, and he's very, very wonderful to listen to. And when he spoke yesterday, we were all moved. And, of course, he brought several Homeboy employees with him -- one of the ones whose tattoos are getting lighter but they're still there -- they had gone to Men's Wearhouse and bought the first suits they ever had, and came to the White House reception last night after the conference in their suits and ties. They were really thrilled to be there.
Another great program that I think is a really terrific one for a lot of cities to think about and try to adopt is CeaseFire Chicago. And it brings together law enforcement, clergy, educators, parents, doctors and others with the goal of stopping gun violence. The professor who started CeaseFire Chicago, Dr. Gary Slutkin, spoke yesterday. And he founded CeaseFire because of a simple premise, and that is: violent behavior is learned. And when people grow up in an environment where violence is considered normal, they're more likely to become violent themselves. And since violent behavior is learned, people can also be taught that it's unacceptable.
Dr. Slutkin and his colleagues wage an intensive public relation campaign that includes billboards that just say, "Stop shooting," or have faces of beautiful children that say, "I want to grow up, stop shooting." And then they work with each one of these community members to stay involved with children every day, and to emphasize the tragic toll that violence takes on families. If schools know that one child is not behaving well or is not in school, clergy in the neighborhood will knock on his door, talk to his parents. They all become involved in the child's life. A mentor will step in to try to mentor the young person so that they won't be involved in violence. CeaseFire rallies community members to hold demonstrations after a shooting, to march on the streets, to say shooting is not acceptable in our neighborhood, and violence won't be tolerated.
And CeaseFire is working. I don't know if you saw the violent crime statistics, but one of the reasons violent crime went down statistically in the United States last year was because Chicago had such a drop in violent crime. And in the neighborhood I visited, when I went to CeaseFire, there were ten gang-related murders in 2003, and there were none in 2004. (Applause.)
Other programs I visited connect children with mentors. We all know how important mentoring is, and I know that many of you probably work in a mentoring program somewhere. Some of the programs are fatherhood programs that teach teenage dads how to be good fathers, which is especially important for a lot of young men, because they grew up without a father themselves. I've really noticed, as I've visited these programs, that there seems to be a movement among young dads to want to be involved. They suffered such a profound loss -- and they know it -- growing up without a dad, and they don't want to do that to their own kids. So yesterday, we had several young fathers that I've met at these programs around the United States, and I find that very encouraging.
Each of us has the ability to bring hope and opportunity to children and to young people, and as leaders and public servants yourself, you have a unique opportunity to shape policies and programs that affect children and young people in your communities.
You might put together a community-based effort to provide safe and educational after school activities for kids, or lead a job training program for youth who have no access to the corporate world.
Yesterday, when Elaine Chao spoke at the conference -- I know she's one of your alumni -- she talked about the soft employment skills that a lot of people don't know; that is, to be at work on time, to be dressed appropriately. Those are the skills you can help young people learn, as they start to look for jobs.
Maybe you're in a position to evaluate programs that already exist in your community, or to expand the reach of programs that show success. I hope you'll look at the needs in your communities and where your company does business, and explore ways you can meet those needs.
One of the great things that came out of the program yesterday, out of the summit -- and this is one of the things that Ron helped organize -- is a new guide -- Community Guide to Helping America's Youth, which you can get on the Internet at www.HelpingAmericasYouth.gov. It went up on the Internet yesterday. It's a collaboration between several government agencies -- federal agencies worked together all this year to put it together. Every community can go on it. You can find out when you go on it what's already in your community. You can assess that you have this many Boys and Girls Clubs, or Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs, or community health centers, or public libraries or all the other things that you would want. You can actually bring up a map of your community so you can log in where each of these things are -- law enforcement in your neighborhood or in your community can lay the crime statistics out over this map so you'll see that maybe you don't have enough policemen on this corner, or maybe you need a Boys and Girls Club in this community because of crime, or after school programs, because this community has a high incidence of crime at four in the afternoon when kids get out of school. It will be a really great way for each community in the United States to assess what they already have, and then to try to meet the needs where they see the gaps.
With the guide, members of a community can identify the challenges that children face, and the services that are already there, and then the guide directs communities to programs and resources that can meet those needs. The programs and resources that are currently on the guide are all research-based. They have research to show that they're effective. And so far there are about 180 programs catalogued on the guide, although as communities meet and assess their needs, they can also type in their own programs that they know are effective.
As White House Fellows, you've already demonstrated your interest in strengthening your communities and your country. And by helping America's youth, you can have a direct impact, as you all know, on America's future. You may even find that a child you reach today will join you at a White House Fellows alumni event in the future.
Thank you all so much. Thank you for everything you do. (Applause.)
END 12:11 P.M. EDT