MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, he is the first Muslim-American elected to the Maryland State legislature and he'll tell us why he has decided to go public with his support of same sex marriage.
But first, a newsmaker interview with Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. President Obama has pledged to harness the power of America's religious communities to address some of this country's most pressing problems. It was a touchstone of his campaign. And shortly after taking office, the president renamed the existing faith-based initiatives office and he asked Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister who headed his religious outreach efforts during the campaign to lead it. And Joshua DuBois is with us now from his office. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Mr. JOSHUA DUBOIS (Executive Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships): It's a pleasure to be on with you.
MARTIN: I should say welcome back, because we did speak during the campaign. So, I wanted to ask how does this office and how do you envision this office differing from the faith-based initiative office under the prior administration?
Mr. DUBOIS: Sure. Well, President Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships exists to build partnerships between the federal government and local community groups to better serve individuals and families and communities who are in need. And that's a bit of a different framing, the previous Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was largely focused on leveling the playing field, making sure that faith-based groups had equal access to the resources of the federal government. Whereas my office and President Obama's new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is more focused on the outcomes. How are we - through our partnerships with local organizations, both faith-based and secular - how are we serving people in need?
MARTIN: One of the office's key initiatives has been to advance President Obama's efforts to promote responsible fatherhood. And (unintelligible) last week in Chicago, the White House began a series of regional town halls in support of that message. You were in Chicago. Who was at the town hall? What was the message? What was it like?
Mr. DUBOIS: It was a great time in Chicago. And this really grows out of this idea that President Obama has about the power that present dads can have in the lives of kids and also the impact that absent fathers have on families and communities as well. Now, you know, this is something he's cared about for a long time. He grew up without a dad in his own home, but he also saw the impact of father absence when he was working in Chicago.
So, he started this national conversation on responsible fatherhood. It's not all about public policy, it's also about conveying a message of personal responsibility, encouraging dads to get on the right track but also highlighting those organizations and those fathers and those mothers and families who are working to strengthen their communities and learning from them about what works. So…
MARTIN: But what is the focus of the White House's efforts here? For example, President Clinton had a so-called responsible fatherhood initiative and the purpose was to, for example, enhance child support collections, to provide funds to help fathers who wanted to make their child support payments but who were not able to do so.
Mr. DUBOIS: Yeah.
MARTIN: So, for that period, it was very much focused on providing financial support from fathers to children. What's different about your efforts?
Mr. DUBOIS: Sure. Well, it's there's two sides to the coin. One is, quite frankly, not about public policy, it's about the message that President Obama can convey and is not ashamed to convey to fathers across the country about responsible fatherhood, and the need to step up to the plate and strengthen individual families and also strengthen communities.
So, it's nothing more complex than simply galvanizing local communities around responsible fatherhood. But the second part of this is that there are federal programs that work to strengthen fathers and families. And we want to know, what programs are working. What's not working? How can we strengthen existing programs? And we're learning about that as we tour across the country having these fatherhood town halls. And that will help and form our work in this area in the future.
MARTIN: Why do you think this initiative should be a part of your office? For example, the White House Council on Women and Girls is headed by the people who are otherwise involved in sort of interagency outreach. It's more of a sort of an interagency working group. I'm curious why is fatherhood located in the Faith-Based Office?
Mr. DUBOIS: Sure. Well, you know, a couple of reasons. One, I have had the pleasure of working on this issue with the president for quite a while dating back to the great work that he did in this area in his United States Senate office, so just sort of a matter of fact that we've been working in this area for a while.
Secondly, my office runs centers at 12 different agencies, centers that work to connect those agencies with local nonprofits, both secular and faith-based. So, given that crosscutting reach that we have, it's sort of a natural extension to work on an issue that touches on so many issue areas.
MARTIN: Is this mainly a bully pulpit project, as it were? Is it mainly harnessing the president's celebrity, his reach, his cultural impact, if you want to call it that, to highlight this issue? Or is there more to it? Because there are those who would say if it's not a matter of public policy, then why should the president be involved? He's not preacher-in-chief, he's commander-in-chief, he's the head of the government.
Mr. DUBOIS: He's also a dad and he's also someone who has been blessed with a voice that, you know, he's able to use on important issues. And this is one that he deems to be extraordinarily critical. You know, we know the numbers that when kids are growing up without both parents or at least without a present father, they're more likely to drop out of school, to be involved in the criminal justice system and so forth. So that's one part of it.
But I don't want to minimize the other piece, which is that the state and local and federal levels, we're running programs that are related to responsible fatherhood. And we want to learn about whether those programs are working, and whether we can - we should be taking a different approach to those programs. So that's a key part of our tour across the country.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Joshua DuBois. He's executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It's a newsmaker interview. Tell me more about what else you're involved in. What are your other priorities?
Mr. DUBOIS: Sure. Well, you know, there are four overall priorities for my office, this is one of them. We also work on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, the various ways that the federal government deals with people from diverse religious backgrounds, both at home and abroad. We also work to make sure that nonprofit organizations, both secular and faith-based, are part of the economic recovery and they're working with the government at all levels to get our economy back on track. And we work to find common ground on the challenging issue of reducing the number of teenage and unintended pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion. So, those are sort of our four overarching priorities.
MARTIN: And when you talk about an issue like abortion, where for some people this really is a matter of irreconcilable absolutes.
Mr. DUBOIS: Yeah.
MARTIN: Just two absolute rights in conflict with each other from the point of view of the people who have those views, what do you think is your role?
Mr. DUBOIS: Sure. Well, you know, there are certainly some absolutes there. There are very clear perspectives on both sides. And as the president has said many times including in a speech at Notre Dame, you know, it's not necessarily our role, our job, to negotiate or navigate those polar perspectives. At the same time, there is a fair amount of area in the middle.
And he wants to explore - through my office but also through the White House Council on Women and Girls and Domestic Policy Council, which are equal partners in this effort - you know, what are those areas that we can agree on? For example, can we agree on making sure that pregnant women have the support they need to bring their pregnancy to term? Can we agree on strengthening the institution of adoptions?
So, there are some areas where we can find some points of agreement. And he'd like to, you know, make sure that we're fully exploring those areas.
MARTIN: Does the fatherhood initiative apply to gay fathers as well?
Mr. DUBOIS: We are not excluding anyone through this initiative. We are - this is about kids who are growing up without responsible role models in their families and that is for all American families regardless of their background.
MARTIN: And I've been asking others to whom we have spoken - when they're in positions like yours - how will you know if you've succeeded in this job?
Mr. DUBOIS: One of the ways that we can know if we succeeded is, you know, is taking a look at where we've been and some of the seeds that we've been able to plant. You know, looking back at Chicago, for example, where we just were and with the follow up that we'll do there, are organizations better networked together? Are they learning more from the models that are out there? Are they connected in sharing resources with one another to address the challenge of father absence?
So, that's one way. But we can also know, quite frankly, through program and policy evaluation. So, that's one, another clear way we will be able to tell if this whole thing works.
MARTIN: Can I ask you if you're a dad yet yourself?
Mr. DUBOIS: I am not a dad yet myself.
MARTIN: It's all a little intimidating, you know, your job is to kind of elevate the level. It's a little scary.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DUBOIS: The good thing is, you know, I got a lot of great folks who are fathers around me from the president to Michael Strautmanis who's also helping to lead this effort in another office of public engagement. And I'm certainly learning a lot as I go along here. And I'm just happy to be working on this on behalf of the American people.
MARTIN: And finally, this is another question that I'd like to ask people. When they hear about the work that you're doing and they say, you know what, I would like to help but I don't know what I can do, what can I do as an individual. What do you tell him?
Mr. DUBOIS: Well, one of the things we would like to know is what works? You know, what are individual fathers and families doing that really help balance work and life and strengthen their families? What are local groups - whether it's a local church or synagogue or mosque or a nonprofit up the street from your house - are they running an effective program that we should learn about? Because at the end of the day, we know that, you know, solutions are not going to come out of Washington, they're going to come out of individuals and families and communities across the country who are stepping up to the plate and meeting our challenges including the challenge of father absence.
So, let us know what works? Go to whitehouse.gov, you know, email, call us and let us know how you're working to strengthen your community.
MARTIN: Joshua DuBois is the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. And he was kind enough to join us from his office. Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. DUBOIS: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Remember, at TELL ME MORE the conversation never ends. Now we'd like to hear from you. How do you think the White House can or should support responsible fatherhood? Or do you think that the government already has too much to say about the way you raise your kids?
To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522, or you can go to our Web site. That's the TELL ME MORE page of the new npr.org, and blog it out.
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