Obama’s latest “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is calling on the support of the American community to enter a long-term commitment of mentoring our young boys of color in order to help change the trajectory of their future.
His request for community involvement in mentoring is one of many actions outlined in the 90-day report that was recently released. So far, local community members, entertainers and politicians have banned together to show support for the initiative, with faith leader members from PICO National Network Lifelines to Healing even releasing their own report that highlights five recommendations for the White House to add to the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative that will help improve opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals, address the flaws of the criminal justice system that work against men of color and keep the conversation going around racial equality.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Rev. Michael McBride, Director of Urban Strategies, Lifelines to Healing, PICO National Network to get his take on the role faith leaders can play in supporting “My Brother’s Keeper.”
How important do you think it is for community leaders like yourself to get behind “My Brother’s Keeper” and voice their support for the initiative?
I think it’s important for us to have influence and be co-creators of the initiative. I think the president has done a wonderful job of using his place as a leader of our country to give highlight to the plight of boys and men of color through the initiative. We don’t want to just get behind the initiative; we want to inform the initiative and help shape it. We want to make sure that faith leaders directly impact populations like formerly incarcerated individuals, young people and their families. We see this as an opportunity to bring our voices and leadership into this space and that’s why we’re excited to be very much involved in bringing recommendations to the table.
Now, in the report you talk about the need for us to make sure that we’re humanizing men of color. How important do you think it is for us to keep the conversation going about race and make sure that we also include our young people in the dialogue?
I think we should insist upon the conversation around race, around unconscious bias, and around racial anxiety to be a central part of any real initiative moving forward. The aspiration to be a colorblind society and a post-racial society does not give us the kind of outcome that any of us want and I think we are seeing that in the ways in which policies and structures are continuing to really harm our community for young people of color. A part of what we hope to do is continue to push administration policy makers, faith leaders, clergy, and our whole country to lead a conversation around race that is constructive, and that actually educates us, informs us and trains us to engage in these conversations, especially with our young people.
In your report you briefly touch on the disproportionate number of men of color who are incarcerated, but what do you think “My Brother’s Keeper” can do starting at the K-12 level to address the ways in which our young men of color are disproportionately disciplined in school?
Again, we think this initiative gives the space for us to draw upon our best practices that are restorative in nature and create an opportunity for us to hold accountable school districts, principals, superintendents, law enforcement agencies, and juvenile halls, all of these institutions that interact with our young people. Make sure that we’re not over criminalizing our young people. Make sure that discipline policies are not pushing them out because of behaviors that are largely similar across the board. The K-12 years are such formative years and if we push our kids out they will not have the skills to compete in a global economy. So we must do everything to make sure that we provide them with the necessary skills, and environments free from the fear of trauma, of violence, of exclusion, and make sure they can stay in class. If they need mental health services how do we make sure those are available? If they need intervention, how do we keep providing them with ways to stay in school and close to the tools that will actually provide a pathway out of economic hardship and poverty?
We also have to make sure that our young people take their own responsibility to maximize every opportunity that’s afforded to them. If we do that then I think both young people and adults can see the kind of results we want, which is for our young people to be alive and free and educated.
In addition to addressing the discipline issues at the K-12 level, what do you think we can do to support our young men who unfortunately have gone through the prison system to ensure that they are met with the proper opportunities once they are released from prison?
So let’s appreciate that the juvenile criminal justice system and the adult criminal justice system operate on two parallel tracks. When we’re talking about young people, we need to make sure we have community day centers, which are places they can go after returning from incarceration to help put them on a pathway to get comprehensive skills. We are making sure that we are reinforcing and supporting community colleges, which in many respects provides opportunity for young people who may not have had the opportunity to finish school to go to school at an affordable price and get their general education and then transfer.
Now, when we think about our adults we need to remember that there are legal discriminatory structures in place that keep our adults from being able to access opportunities. You can’t vote. You don’t have equal access to housing. You aren’t able to compete for jobs. So we’re calling on a very bold and aggressive banning of the box policy in states and cities across the country. The President has recently talked about clemency and further kinds of expungement of the records of those incarcerated when they return home. We want to take that down to the state level. We wouldn’t have to ban the box if every time our loved ones returned home their record was expunged because they paid their debt to society. So these are the kinds of things I think we need to really be focusing on and that we believe institutions in the faith community have a part to play in helping to bring our own kind of influence to the table.