In February, President Barack Obama announced an initiative to respond to the economic, employment, and educational disparities that young men of color face as they enter their adult lives. He said the five-year, $200 million cause would be “an interagency effort to improve measurably the expected educational and life outcomes for and address the persistent opportunity gaps,” and he called it “My Brother’s Keeper.”
The President said he would form a task force stretching across the federal government to determine what is working for these young men, where they are hindered, and how the public could get involved with opening the doors of opportunity in areas where they are lacking.
So it’s been nearly six months since the announcement, and I’ve decided to take a look at it: Where are things now? How is the program growing? What does it need to be successful? What has happened so far?
Well, the first thing the Obama administration looked for was a task force report, which was released in late May and authored by Broderick Johnson, assistant to the President and cabinet secretary, and Jim Shelton, deputy secretary of education. The task force spoke with thousands of people throughout the country and found many not-so-secret facts, including:
- 23.2 percent of Hispanics, 25.8 percent of Blacks, and 27 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of White Americans.
- During the summer months (June-August) of 2013, just 17 percent of Black teenage boys (ages 16-19) and 28 percent of Hispanic teenage boys were employed, compared to 34 percent of White teenage boys.
- While only 6 percent of the overall population, Black males accounted for 43 percent of murder victims in 2011.
The report went on to outline the opportunities to turn these and other statistics around short term and long term. It also included action plans hat can actually be done to address these problems, such as establishing national indicators, supporting cradle-to-college-and-career strategies, ensuring access to high-quality early care and education, and reforming the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Since that report, the White House announced that 60 of the largest school districts in the nation have joined the initiative, according to the New York Times. These districts represent about 40 percent of all African-American and Latino boys who live below the poverty line. The Council of the Great City Schools is coordinating the effort with school systems from Albequerque to Toledo. One of their pledges is to report regularly on the progress of their work.
Meanwhile, during a July town hall meeting, Obama spoke to an audience in Washington on the direction of My Brother’s Keeper and announced commitments from companies like AT&T, which is giving $18 million to support educational and mentoring programs targeted at socioeconomically vulnerable young men, reports MSNBC.com. The College Board is investing more than $1.5 million toward putting young men of color in advanced placement courses by the time they graduate. Discovery communications says it will also commit more than $1 million toward original programming that breaks down stereotypes affecting men of color.
Finally, the White House itself announced new commitments from groups like the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, and the National Basketball Retired Players Association announced a five-year commitment to My Brother’s Keeper and will support a public service announcement geared at recruiting 25,000 mentors for disadvantaged youths.
In addition to the many other related activities, AmeriCorps is partnering with the USDA‘s Forest Service to provide $3.8 million in resources for both AmeriCorps grantees and member organizations of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to connect youths with forest restoration skills and career opportunities.
Also, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are putting together a $10 million AmeriCorps program called “Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps.” The goal is to “enroll disconnected youth in national service programs as AmeriCorps members over the next three years.”
So the list of commitments is long and impressive for My Brother’s Keeper, and opponents of it cannot say that the federal government has spent a dime on it because it facilitates funding through corporate and private philanthropy.
But what is needed now is for local organizations and small non-profits to get the opportunity to be a part of the initiative.
These groups have been working on creating the same types of openings for young men of color long before the Obama administration announced My Brother’s Keeper. A letter written by officials with 100 Black Men of America Inc. to the Office of Juvenile Justice objects to a particular requirement for grant funding from My Brother’s Keeper. The rule states that organizations must have chapters in at least 45 states to qualify for such funding and that eliminates a broad swath of African-American volunteer and non-profit organizations from funding they desperately need to do this work.
100 Black Men is right.
Corporations are not the only ones that can make a difference, in fact they are far less capable than the people on the grass roots levels and in the communities who are working out of recreational centers and church basements to create change in neighborhoods where there is little hope outside of these groups.
The Obama administration would do well to change this rule and open up opportunities to partner with the corporations and philanthropists for funding to make the intentions of My Brother’s Keeper successful.
So let’s check back in six more months to see exactly what kind of progress has been made. If you have any idea of what you’d like to see done or what challenges lie ahead that should be addressed, please leave them in the comments’ section below.
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter: @madisonjgray