When President Obama on May 4 announced the launch of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a private sector nonprofit to assist young minorities, he expressed beliefs held dear by the members of all of the 18 annual classes of The Network Journal “40 Under Forty” outstanding achievers. “No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you came from, no matter what your circumstances were, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then America is a place where you can make something of your lives,” President Obama said. “In every community in America, there are young people with incredible drive and talent.”
Comprising the likes of American Express, Deloittte, Discovery Networks and Fox News parent company News Corp., the new alliance is a private sector outgrowth of the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative of 2014, which aims to keep young minority men out of the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” by increasing their access to education and jobs through federal policies and grants. The Black men involved with the alliance testify to the drive and talent typical of the TNJ “40 Under Forty” honoree. They include singer / songwriter John Legend, the alliance’s honorary chairman; former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, an alliance board member; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Attorney General Eric Holder; Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson; Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; former NFL player Jerome Bettis; and former basketball standout Shaquille O’Neal, Ph.D. — all of whom are members of the alliance’s advisory council.
TNJ’s annual awards dinner celebrating the exceptional career, entrepreneurial and community achievements of 40 Black men and women under the age of 40 is an exultant affair, with hundreds of family, friends and colleagues of the honorees, along with TNJ partners, well-wishers and supporters, on hand to cheer the awardees. The cheers are fervent, for even then, even there, few ignore the fact that the young men among our honorees are not immune to the fate of an Eric Garner (Staten Island, New York), Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), Tamir Rice (Cleveland, Ohio), Freddie Gray (Baltimore) — all senselessly killed by police officers — or to the fate of a Trayvon Martin (Sanford, Florida), killed by a neighborhood vigilante. “You all know the numbers. By almost every measure, the life chances of the average young man of color is worse than his peers,” President Obama said on May 4. “Those opportunity gaps begin early — often at birth — and they compound over time, becoming harder and harder to bridge, making too many young men and women feel like no matter how hard they try, they may never achieve their dreams. And that sense of unfairness and of powerlessness, of people not hearing their voices, that’s helped fuel some of the protests that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore, and Ferguson, and right here in New York.”
That’s why, every year, we cheer our honorees so long, so loud, so fervently. However hard the opportunity gap may have been to bridge, they bridged them — before the age of 40 no less.