The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 25, 2005

Mrs. Bush Discusses Helping America's Youth Conference with American Urban Radio Network
The Map Room

10:32 A.M. EDT

Q First Lady Bush, Mrs. Bush, thank you so much for joining me again today. As always, a pleasure to chat with you. And today, we're talking about something that you and the President have embarked upon in the last year -- at-risk youth. And you've gone across the country, you've listened to what people have had to say about helping America's youth. And now you're bringing it all together at a conference at Howard University. Talk to me about what you are expecting from this conference.

MRS. BUSH: Well, this is going to really be a terrific conference on Thursday, at Howard University -- and people can follow it on the Internet at home if they want to see what goes on there. But we have a number of researchers talking first, specifically about the challenges that America's young people face. And we know that boys are not going to college and graduate school as much as girls. We know that boys drop out of school more than girls do. Of course, we all know that boys are more likely to get in trouble and be arrested.

And so part of the conference will focus on what we can do for boys, how we can change the way we're raising boys, to encourage them to continue in school and to make healthy decisions for themselves so they don't end up in trouble.

But we'll also talk about fatherhood. We'll talk about several fatherhood initiatives that are going on around the United States where fathers have chosen to be involved and responsible for their children, and are either going to parenting classes or being involved in various faith-based groups around the country to encourage parents to be involved in their children's lives.

I actually got the idea for this initiative last September. I was reading an article in the New York Times magazine about a young man who had grown up without a father himself and had felt a huge loss for that. And when his girlfriend had a baby, he made the determination to be involved in his child's life. And I actually met him. I met the young man in Milwaukee when I visited his hometown over the year, and I think he and his little boy will be at the conference this time.

As I've traveled and visited a number of fatherhood initiatives around the country, I've met a number of young men who are making that choice. There are many young men who grew up without a father that don't want that to happen to their own children. And I really do think we're on just sort of a cusp of time where a lot of young men are going to make that decision, to stay involved with their children.

And that's only one part of the conference, because we know that's one way to help boys and girls. Little boys and little girls who have a loving, devoted father have a huge advantage, along with, of course, as we all know -- and I don't want to, in any way, act like a loving and devoted mother isn't most important, because we know, of course, that is.

We'll also talk about Striving Readers. The Striving Readers program, which the President has mentioned before, is a program that encourages middle schools and high schools to make sure everyone learns to read. And if you have middle school students and high school students who have gotten that far and still are poor readers, to do everything you can to teach them to read. And the good news is, if you adopt -- if school districts adopt systematic teaching of reading, based on all the new research about how children learn to read -- middle school and high school students can catch up with their peers really quickly. And we know, of course, that most of the kids who drop out of school drop out because they're frustrated. They get that far in school and they can't read.

So there will be an education component, there will be a fatherhood component, there will be a mentoring component -- the way coaches, teachers, grandparents, community leaders can help parents by mentoring children, as well.

Q Talking with you in September when we were coming back from Mississippi back to Washington on the plane, you said something about gangs, as well. You talked about gangs, and we talked about employment. Could you expound upon that? And also, if we look at a circle, at a pie, I guess, what ratio, what portions would you give family, community, employment, education, fatherhood?

MRS. BUSH: Well, each one of those are very important. And we were talking about the great program in Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries, that Father Gregory Boyle started. And Father Boyle will be one of the presenters at the conference on Thursday.

He said to me, and he said, I know this is simplistic, but, he said, if people have a good job, they're much more likely to live a stable life. And we know that. And so we want our young people to finish high school, to have the opportunity to go on to college, or to have a good choice of good jobs. And all of the ways that -- a lot of different ways that we know children, young people, can have that will be addressed.

Of course we want young people to avoid drugs and alcohol, and we know that people who do avoid drugs and alcohol are more likely to be able to get a job. We want young people to avoid gangs. And we know that if they're not tattooed with gang tattoos, they're more likely to be employable.

So that's certainly one part of it. And on -- it's hard to say what's the most important. I think -- of course we know that parents can have a huge impact on their children's lives, and that the people who are fortunate enough to have two loving and stable parents we know have a huge advantage. So I think parenting is very, very important.

As you grow up, your education becomes more important. As you reach maturity, if you're educated, you're more likely to be able to get a good job.

And then we know as adults, the people who are happiest are the ones who are productive, who live a good life because they work hard. Maybe it's working hard at home, making it's working hard in a business, maybe it's working hard for their church. But we know that humans are happy, happier, if they can be productive in a good and constructive way.

Q It sounds like almost what you're saying -- and it goes back to what the President has been saying -- family, family. Does this all really point back to the family -- the impetus, everything starts back with a good family unit, whether it's one kind of family or another?

MRS. BUSH: Yes, I think family is very important, and we all know that. But we do also know -- and we have many examples around us all the time of children and young people or adults who grew up with not a great family situation but still could succeed because somebody else stepped in, a teacher stepped in, and told them something about themselves they didn't know, and encouraged them in a good way. A coach might mentor them, especially a young man might be mentored by a coach and really be able to change his life because of that. Clergy, church members, have been able to step in in the lives of young people. And of course, we know that grandparents and aunts and uncles many times have been the ones who have stepped in when the parents, for some reason, are not successful in taking care of their children, and it made all the difference in the life of children.

And so that's the encouraging message. Even if your immediate family is not taking care of you, there are certainly other people and -- other people that young people can reach out to. And I want to encourage young people who are in an unhappy family situation to reach out to your aunts or uncles or your grandparents or your teacher or your coaches and turn your life around.

Q I was reading on the Internet last night, and I found a program out of New York -- it was a non-profit organization -- that helps at-risk youth. And it basically said that there's not a problem -- there's not almost any problem that cannot be fixed, as it relates to at-risk youth. Is that what you're finding, that you can turn around most of the situations that you're coming across?

MRS. BUSH: Amazingly enough, yes. I mean, for instance, the Homebody Industries that I was talking about, when I met the young people there who had dealt drugs, who had been in prison, who were tattooed on their foreheads and on their necks, that they are turning their lives around. They're getting the skills that they need. They dropped out of school. They weren't educated. But at Homeboy Industries, they're learning how to be bakers, or learning to work in a restaurant. They're learning silk-screening techniques and graphic techniques from the Homeboy Industries. And then, they work there, they get their tattoos removed, and then they can get a good job.

And one of the young men that I met when I was there now has gone to work since -- I've heard from Father Boyle has gone to work for a graphics company and has a really good job.

Q What other stories are you hearing from the community that has made you pull into yourself, I guess, to find yourself, to see, I guess, where America is in their heart? Because, I mean, it's surprising to me to hear you talk about tattoos ane the removal of tattoos. You wouldn't think that that is such a major issue, but I guess it is, because this is something that you're bringing forth in this conference.

MRS. BUSH: Well, if you're tattooed on your face or your arms, it's probably -- where people can see it -- it's probably -- most employers probably would not hire you. So it gets back to another way to get a good job if you are tattooed.

Certainly people have tattoos that are hired, but I'm just talking about the really extreme --

Q The gang-related tattoos, yes.

MRS. BUSH: The gang-related, very extreme tattoos. But there's so many ways that people can reach out in their communities, and one of the things that's been the most moving to me, that I've really taken into my heart, is to see the adults who grew up without something, that made them sad, and now are trying to answer that need for other children. One of the men who's going to talk, Duncan Campbell, grew up with a very, very unhappy family life. And so he determined, as a child, that he was going to not -- he was going to do whatever he could when he was a grownup to make sure other children didn't grow up unhappy like that.

So he grew up, he happened to be a businessman, he happened to make a lot of money, and he started a wonderful program that mentors children. It's in a number of cities around the United States, and it's actually -- it actually pays mentors, people who might have chosen to teach school, for instance -- they get about the same salary as a school teacher would get. And they mentor more than one child. They mentor about eight children each, and they're committed to mentoring these children for 12 years, for their entire first grade through twelfth grade year.

And his story, that need to make things better for other children because it wasn't for him, is the story that I see over and over. The two coaches at Think Detroit, they're both lawyers. They grew up in Detroit neighborhoods. And when they grew up and they were successful and went to law school and became lawyers, they knew that there were all these kids in the projects and in the community in Detroit that needed the help and the mentoring of a good man. And so they recruited coaches around their city. They started great inter-league playing with these young people. They taught good character traits as they coached. They gave a forum -- for instance, after the games, they would have barbeques so the parents could be together and have a social life and not be isolated in their own communities, but instead, be with their children and meet their children's friends and their parents. They also felt a need when they were young people, and when they grew up they wanted to do something to answer that need for other children. And that's what I see is so special about our country.

Q The federal government, I understand, will be tracking this, with a Community Assessment Tool. All the agencies will be working on this. Could you tell me about that?

MRS. BUSH: Well, that's one of the great and exciting things about the conference. A number of agencies have gone together to develop this Community Assessment Tool. Community members can take this tool from the Internet and assess all of their own needs. They can see how they're already meeting the needs of young people. They can see where they maybe are falling down, what needs aren't being met. They can lay this tool out on an actual map of their community that they can get also from this website, and then law enforcement in the community can put on this map where the shootings are, where the high crime neighborhoods are. It even helps law enforcement see where they should have the most police, the most law enforcement. Then it lets the community see, maybe if we put a Boys and Girls Club on this corner, that would really help; or maybe a public library, if we're going to build a new public library, if we put it in this neighborhood, that would really help.

So it's a great tool for community members to use to make sure needs are being met by the young people in their communities.

Q And lastly, you're talking about these at-risk youth reaching their potential and their promise. And there's someone who just passed away, Rosa Parks, at the age of 92, the mother of the Civil Rights movement, who sat down against injustice on a bus for everyone to be able to reach their potential. Your thoughts, and the President's thoughts about the life of Rosa Parks.

MRS. BUSH: Well, Rosa Parks is such an inspiration to me and to millions of people in our country and around the world. And what she did was a simple act, an act of dignity. That's really what she is, she's a dignified woman who realized she didn't have to go to the back of the bus. And what she did made all the difference for all the people who came after her. And it was just a beautiful, simple act. And all of us can take lessons from that, we really can. We can think about our own individual acts, the smallest ones and how they can make a difference. If we treat people with dignity, if we treat ourselves with respect and dignity, we can make a big difference for our country and world just like Rosa Parks did.

Q And Mrs. Bush, this last question quickly, this conference, I mean, we've been -- our network has really been on this conference, and not just the conference, but on your efforts with at-risk youth. And unfortunately, we're in the midst of this administration -- a lot of things. How will you keep this conference and the idea of at-risk youth going, as a lot of other news is going on right now?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I hope that people will watch it on the Internet on Thursday when it's going on, at the White House website, which is That's the way they'll be able to see it in their own homes.

But then I'm going to continue to travel to communities, talk about different programs that we'll highlight this Thursday, and new programs that I haven't even visited yet. And then I hope to bring summits to different states, this very same conference, to other cities around the United States so that more people will have the opportunity to hear what these researchers say and hear about the ways we can help young people.

Q So it doesn't end here.

MRS. BUSH: That's right, it doesn't end here.

Q Thank you so much, Mrs. Bush. It's always a pleasure.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much, April. Thanks a lot.

END 10:50 A.M. EDT


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