President Barack Obama may not have much time left in office, but he has done some work to ensure that young men of color will have the tools they need to have a shot at a productive, financially-sound, sustainable future.
In a roundtable that took place on Monday at Lehman College in the Bronx, the President talked about the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance, a new initiative aimed at helping to close the opportunity gap for young men of color.
“You all know the numbers. By almost every measure, the life chances of the average young man of color is worse than his peers. 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,” the President said.
The President said MBK is a private sector effort that’s about getting results: doubling the percentage of boys and young men of color who read at grade level by the third grade; increasing their high school graduation rates by 20 percent; and getting 50,000 more of those young men into post-secondary education or training.
And insurance giant Prudential, among other companies, is on board as well. The company has committed a total of $13 million in grants and impact investments to ensure the work continues, with $3 million going toward establishing the Alliance and providing technical assistance to the cities, municipalities and tribal nations involved.
“Prudential has always strived to help people achieve financial security and peace of mind. That commitment applies not only to our customers, but also to the broader community. Our $13 million investment in the My Brother’s Keeper is just one example of how we’re using our financial resources and business expertise to help expand access to economic and social mobility. Boys and young men of color face many systemic barriers that make it harder for them to build a bright financial future. Our investment is focused on two things: supporting the MBK Alliance to provide communities with technical assistance to create pathways to opportunities for boys and young men of color; and investing in enterprises that lead to the creation of more high-quality job opportunities in cities and regions where large populations of young men of color live. We’re excited to be a part of this important work,” Lata Reddy, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility and President, The Prudential Foundation, told TNJ.com.
Below are excerpts from the President’s speech:
Across the country and in parts of New York, in parts of New Jersey, in parts of my hometown in Chicago, there are communities that don’t have enough jobs, don’t have enough investment, don’t have enough opportunity. You’ve got communities with 30, or 40, or 50 percent unemployment. They’ve been struggling long before the economic crisis in 2007, 2008. Communities without enough role models. Communities where too many men who could otherwise be leaders, who could provide guidance for young people, who could be good fathers and good neighbors and good fellow citizens, are languishing in prison over minor, nonviolent drug offenses.
Now, there’s no shortage of people telling you who and what is to blame for the plight of these communities. But I’m not interested in blame. I’m interested in responsibility and I’m interested in results. (Applause.)
That’s why we’ve partnered with cities to get more kids access to quality early childhood education — no matter who they are or where they’re born. It’s why we’ve partnered with cities to create Promise Zones, to give a booster shot to opportunity. That’s why we’ve invested in ideas from support for new moms to summer jobs for young people, to helping more young people afford a college education.
And that’s why, over a year ago, we launched something we call My Brother’s Keeper — an initiative to address those persistent opportunity gaps and ensure that all of our young people, but particularly young men of color, have a chance to go as far as their dreams will take them. It’s an idea that we pursued in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death because we wanted the message sent from the White House in a sustained way that his life mattered, that the lives of the young men who are here today matter, that we care about your future — not just sometimes, but all the time.
In every community in America, there are young people with incredible drive and talent, and they just don’t have the same kinds of chances that somebody like me had. They’re just as talented as me, just as smart. They don’t get a chance. And because everyone has a part to play in this process, we brought everybody together. We brought business leaders and faith leaders, mayors, philanthropists, educators, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, actors — all united around the simple idea of giving all our young people the tools they need to achieve their full potential.
And we were determined not to just do a feel-good exercise, to write a report that nobody would read, to do some announcement, and then once the TV cameras had gone away and there weren’t protests or riots, then somehow we went back to business as usual. We wanted something sustained. And for more than a year, we’ve been working with experts to identify some of the key milestones that matter most in every young person’s life — from whether they enter school ready to learn, to whether they graduate ready for a career. Are they getting suspended in school? Can we intervene there? Are they in danger of falling into the criminal justice system? Can we catch them before they do? Key indicators that we know will make a difference. If a child is reading by the third grade at grade level, we know they’ve got a chance of doing better. If they aren’t involved with the criminal justice system and aren’t suspended while they’re in school, we know they’ve got a chance of doing better. So there are certain things that we knew would make a difference.
And we’ve looked at which programs and policies actually work in intervening at those key periods. Early childhood education works. Job apprenticeship programs work. Certain mentoring programs work. And we’ve identified which strategies make a difference in the lives of young people, like mentoring, or violence prevention and intervention.
And because we knew this couldn’t be the work of just the federal government, we challenged every community in the country — big cities, small towns, rural counties, tribal nations — to publicly commit to implementing strategies to help all young people succeed. And as a result, we’ve already got more than 200 communities across the country who are focused on this issue. They’re on board and they’re doing great work. They’re sharing best practices. They’re sharing ideas.
All of this has happened just in the last year. And the response we’ve gotten in such a short amount of time, the enthusiasm and the passion we’ve seen from folks all around the country proves how much people care about this. Sometimes politics may be cynical, the debate in Washington may be cynical, but when you get on the ground, and you talk to folks, folks care about this. They know that how well we do as a nation depends on whether our young people are succeeding. That’s our future workforce.
They know that if you’ve got African American or Latino men here in New York who, instead of going to jail, are going to college, those are going to be taxpayers. They’re going to help build our communities. They will make our communities safer. They aren’t part of the problem, they’re potentially part of the solution — if we treat them as such.
So we’ve made enormous progress over the last year. But today, after months of great work on the part of a whole lot of people, we’re taking another step forward, with people from the private sector coming together in a big way. We’re here for the launch of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which is a new nonprofit organization of private sector organizations and companies that have committed themselves to continue the work of opening doors for young people — all our young people — long after I’ve left office. (Applause.) It’s a big deal.