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My Brother’s Keeper–”for the Sake of America’s Future”

obama sotu 2013

It blew up on Twitter yesterday. Everyone was talking about My Brother’s Keeper, President Obama’s initiative that addresses obstacles facing young men of color. Some said Obama is now the black president people have wanted him to be. Others emphasized his message of “no excuses.” What about poor white kids, someone else asked. Although there are probably plenty of groups in the U.S. that could use a similar initiative, the statistics for young black and brown men are uniquely troubling.

According to the White House, by the time they hit fourth grade, 86% of African American boys and 82% of Hispanic boys are reading below proficiency levels — compared with 54% of white fourth graders.

African American and Hispanic young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers — and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year.

“By almost every measure,” the president said, boys and young men of color fare worse in our society than any other group. Boys and young men of color as a group have a 50% chance of growing up without a father in the home; by their high school years, they are more likely to have been expelled, and more likely to be part of the criminal justice system.

The president said, “We’ve become numb to these statistics. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.” He called it an issue of national importance.

My Brother’s Keeper will build on work that is already in place across the nation that addresses these same issues and will work with foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The interagency task force plans to also work closely with the business community. Attending the event yesterday were such business luminaries as Ken Chenault of American Express, Don Thompson of McDonald’s, and Rosalind Brewer of Sam’s Club.

James O’Neal, co-founder and executive director of Legal Outreach, a college access program that serves diverse youth in New York City, says he is thrilled about the president’s initiative.

“Those of us who have been working with young men in our urban communities realize the importance of what’s being proposed. What thrills me more than anything is the president’s recognition of this as a long-term initiative and not a quick fix. His emphasis on educational opportunity really struck me as a key to the program’s success. Educational initiatives will always be the key to advancement and success of any group, no matter who they are or where they come from.”

Ruth Rathblott, president and CEO of the college access program HEAF, or Harlem Educational Activities Fund, also applauds the idea of the president’s initiative.

“I don’t want to sound cliché, but it does take a village,” she says. “Bringing in community and business partners will be crucial to the program’s success. Here at HEAF we emphasize intellectual curiosity and social-emotional learning skills, and we provide academic support. We believe that if you work hard you should have the opportunity to succeed. I look forward to seeing how the program will be implemented.”

For more information about My Brother’s Keeper, go to www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper.