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Race and Beyond: Moving Forward with ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

obama and kids

SOURCE: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama gestures during an event in the East Room of the White House to promote his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.

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Earlier this year, President Barack Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, a public-private effort aimed at improving life outcomes for boys and young men of color. At a White House news conference in February, President Obama noted the tremendous progress the nation has made toward removing the obstacles that have stood in the way of progress for generations of racial and ethnic minorities.

Yet President Obama also said that much more work is needed to close the remaining gaps:

But the plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society—groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions … And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.

Last Friday, President Obama spelled out what he has in mind, releasing a 60-page report that offers a broad outline of what the administration believes can and should be done. Prepared by a presidential task force, the report lists six focus areas that aim to provide interventions at key points in a young person’s life:

  1. Getting a healthy start and entering school ready to learn
  2. Reading at grade level by third grade
  3. Graduating from high school ready for college and career
  4. Completing postsecondary education or training
  5. Entering the workforce
  6. Reducing violence and giving kids a second chance

The initiative isn’t a massive federal program. Rather, it’s a White House-led effort to encourage a broad array of public, private, and philanthropic leaders to get off the sidelines and become involved in breaking barriers to success for those who need it most. At the heart of the task force’s first step is a call for citizen involvement as mentors for young black and Latino boys.

“We believe that the key to working to improve the lives of boys and young men of color, indeed for all of our youth, is to make sure that the communities around them are investing in them,” said Broderick Johnson, the chair of the My Brother’s Keeper task force, during a press call last week to unveil the report.

One group that has taken on the president’s challenge is the PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing Campaign, a nationwide faith-based effort to reduce gun violence and to end mass incarceration. Led by Pastor Michael McBride, the Lifelines Campaign embraced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and set about creating a parallel effort to amplify the White House program.

During the three-month period that the White House task force met with government agency directors, corporate business leaders, and influential charities and foundation heads to come up with its recommendations for action, so too did McBride—who is widely known in the activist community as Pastor Mike.

But instead of talking with the high and mighty, McBride sought to meet with the common folks at the grassroots level for whom the cold, dry statistics of government reports are the daily reality of their lived experiences. As a complement to the White House effort, PICO launched its “LIVE FREE: 90 Days of Action to Preach, Pray and Act to Become My Brother’s Keeper” program. Through PICO’s network of 1,200 congregations and 55 faith­based organizations, the group has engaged tens of thousands of people of faith and trained more than 3,000 community leaders in multiday LIVE FREE boot camps in 15 cities, McBride told me.

“We’ve traveled across the country to talk to those people and to bring their voices to the public—and to the White House,” he said.

On Friday, June 3, PICO will hold “A Day of Testimony” to share what people with firsthand experience of boys and young men in crisis have to say about their lives. The day will begin with a meeting with White House officials, where prominent faith leaders, formerly incarcerated people, and others will share what they have learned during their meetings across the nation. Later in the day, the group will conduct a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress, where PICO will release a report on what it has learned from those closest to the problems facing boys and young men and share its recommendations for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. In fact, you can follow this link to RSVP for a seat at the Day of Testimony panel.

The future for black and Latino boys isn’t preordained—whether good or ill—by the random circumstance of birth. That’s the point of President Obama’s challenge to the nation. As the initiative’s title makes clear, charting a course for at-risk boys and young men requires the shared burdens and collaborative efforts of a host of individuals and groups.

With faith and deed, it can be accomplished. But first, our nation must make real the compassion and accountability of the biblical entreaty to become our brothers’ keepers.

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.

Applications are now open for the next class of the CAP Leadership Institute. For more information about the program or to apply, please follow this link. The deadline for applying is July 18, 2014.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund, women's issues)
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Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention, the National Security Agency)
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Print: Chelsea Kiene (energy and environment, Legal Progress, higher education)
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Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
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TV: Rachel Rosen
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Radio: Chelsea Kiene
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This is part of a regular column: Race and Beyond

For more from the same column, click here