Young men of color were given national priority as President Obama kicked off the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative with a speech that touched on his own fatherless upbringing at the White House on Thursday.
Announced in last month’s State of the Union address, the public-private program aims to correct the overwhelming disparities and plights facing young minority men in the U.S, a group that Obama claims is “facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century.”
General Colin Powell, Magic Johnson, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and a number of esteemed leaders in philanthropy, business, government and media were on hand to show support for this new effort. Also standing with the president were the members of Becoming a Man, a Chicago-based dropout and violence prevention program for at-risk young men.
“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, groups who’ve seen fewer opportunity that have spanned generations,” Obama said at the program’s launch.
The President talked at length about the troubling trends this group encounters in schools and the criminal justice system to further illustrate the initiative’s critical nature. He pointed out that fewer Black and Latino men participate in the labor force, compared to white men, which translates to higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.
“We’ve become numb to the statistics. We’re not surprised by them, we take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is,” said Obama, noting disparities in academic success and incarceration.
Reflecting on his own experiences as young man who did not know his father and experimented with drugs, the president admitted that he had “made bad choices,” like not taking school seriously and smoking marijuana “without thinking about the harm it could do.”
“I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short,” he said.
“I repeat my story now because I firmly believe every child deserves the same chances that I had and that’s why we’re here today to do what we can in this year of action to give more young Americans the support they need ot make good choices, overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.”
The Brother’s Keeper Task Force will be chaired by Broderick Johnson, an assistant to the President and Cabinet secretary. An assessment of Federal policies, regulations and programs that apply to young men and boys of color, as well a comprehensive website and an online portal sharing best practices are a few of the duties that the task force will reportedly undertake.
Am investment of $150 million has already been made by a host of leading philanthropic foundations and businesses, including the Open Society Foundations, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Ford Foundation. On Thursday, these foundations also announced they would aim to invest at least $200 million more to discover and disseminate solutions that have the highest potential for impact in key areas.
“When research clearly shows us a problem that needs fixing, it is our responsibility as leaders to band together to start implementing solutions,” wrote Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Broderick Johnson in a White House blog post.
“When we do – we will not only see better outcomes for boys and young men of color, we will see the entire country begin to fulfill its full potential.”