Equity & Diversity

Obama’s Boys of Color Initiative Spawns New Nonprofit

By Evie Blad — May 11, 2015 3 min read
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, left, and Mayor Michael Nutter listen to a question during a My Brother's Keeper town hall on May 7 at the School of the Future in Philadelphia. The White House program focuses on better outcomes for boys and young men of color.

President Barack Obama unveiled last week the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an independent, business-backed nonprofit that will allow him to continue his work addressing barriers for boys and young men of color after he leaves the White House.

“I notice we don’t always get a lot of reporting on this issue when there’s not a crisis in some neighborhood,” he said, referring to recent unrest in Baltimore and discussions about race and justice that have followed.

“But we’re just going to keep on plugging away,” Mr. Obama said at Lehman College in the Bronx, N.Y. “And this will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.”

The new venture will build off the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which launched in 2014. The White House will continue its equity efforts while President Obama remains in office, and the new nonprofit will operate independent of his control, White House officials said.

The alliance—backed by 11 corporations including Sam’s Club, American Express, Pepsico, and bet—has so far secured $85 million in commitments, the organization said. Its advisory council includes civil rights advocates, celebrities, and Obama allies like former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, PolicyLink Founder and Chief Executive Officer Angela Glover Blackwell, and former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.

A ‘Playbook’

The group’s first initiatives are a “playbook” that provides strategies for the private sector to address “key obstacles facing young men of color.” There will also be two grant programs initially: one that will provide up to $7 million for innovative projects, and another to fund up to $25 million for community projects.

As a White House initiative, My Brother’s Keeper has encouraged interagency efforts, public-private partnerships, and work at the local level to address issues like disproportionate rates of school discipline for black boys and mentorship programs.

More than $300 million has now been committed to the White House from the private sector in grants, in-kind contributions, or other resources, according to a first year progress report released earlier this year. And more than 200 mayors, tribal chiefs, and county executives from across the country have signed on to the compact and taken concrete steps to address cradle-to-career opportunities for boys of color and issues of equity, according to the report.

The president had recently hinted that he would focus on boys of color after he leaves the White House, including in a meeting with big-city superintendents who met with him in March to discuss the boys-of-color initiatives in their school districts.

“I am delighted to see that he is going to stay with this priority,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents 67 big-city districts. The council has partnered with the White House on the initiative.

President Obama has faced criticism that he doesn’t speak forcefully enough about issues related to race. He said he formed My Brother’s Keeper after the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American boy who was shot in Florida in 2012, because the White House wanted boys of color to know “that we care about your future—not just sometimes, but all the time.”

Sustained efforts are needed to help overcome an “accumulation of not just decades but, in some cases, centuries of trauma” in minority communities, Mr. Obama said.

“I’m going to keep on fighting,” he said, “and everybody here is going to keep on fighting to make sure that all of our kids have the opportunity to make of their lives what they will.”

Staff writer Denisa R. Superville contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Effort Spawns New Nonprofit


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