The My Brother’s Keeper initiative works to address the persistent and life-determining challenges faced by boys and young men of color (African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Alaska Natives) to a disproportionate degree. The challenges are real: poverty, absentee fathers, high dropout rates, low employment, violence, and high rates of imprisonment.
Last year, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper in an effort to address these problems. The initiative is working with leading foundations and businesses to help young men of color fulfill their potential and contribute to our country’s social and economic fabric.
Broderick Johnson, assistant to the president and cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, recently met with an editor at the offices of Black Enterprise to talk about President Obama’s historic initiative, the challenges ahead, and what has surprised both him and the president about the work of My Brother’s Keeper. Johnson is encouraged with its progress so far.
“There are about 200 My Brother’s Keeper communities across the country,” Johnson said in an interview. “The president was in Indianapolis in February meeting with the Republican mayor there, Greg Ballard, and the mayor brought up My Brother’s Keeper. There’s been an outpouring of interest, and the president and I have been surprised by the level of Republican mayoral support–they’ve started My Brother’s Keeper programs.”
Johnson said that the way to meet the challenge is to bring people in a community together and develop plans that are data driven–which is what cities are doing. He noted that the city of Philadelphia recently released a great plan after consulting with a broad base of stakeholders; Indianapolis has developed a three-year plan.
Johnson asserts that My Brother’s Keeper will survive the president’s term of office in at least two ways: in the community-based work–because the initiative is essentially a local, community-based program–and at the federal level. Johnson heads a task force that comprises 12 domestic agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice, the Interior, and Energy. Each of the 12 agencies is involved with the initiative, and each has examined its policies and identified ways to make them more effective in addressing the needs of children of color, especially boys. For example, last year the Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued discipline guidelines to reduce the use of out-of-school suspensions, which are used disproportionately against black students across the country, especially boys.
The business community has also enthusiastically embraced the goals of My Brother’s Keeper, Johnson said. “There’s been lots of engagement on the national level. Finance services firms have developed and extended mentorship programs that are focused on African American and Hispanic males in their 20’s. AT&T has launched a program of 25,000 mentors over five years which it’s driving through its employees.”
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