(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama announced Thursday the strategy behind his administration's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative that aims to close the achievement gap for black and Hispanic youth by ensuring they receive education and job opportunities so that they can reach their full potential in life.
Obama remarked that in the 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream for America's children, the advancement of "the average black and brown child in this country lags behind, by almost every measure, and is worse for boys and young men."
"If you're African American, there's a one-in-two chance that you grew up without a father in your house. If you're Latino, you have a one-in-four chance," Obama added, noting that fewer black and Latino men are participating in the labor force, which is leading to higher unemployment and poverty rates.
Obama said he started his term as president with the desire to provide equal opportunitues for every American. And he's going to spend the remainder of his term focusing on his agenda and policies that are "designed to give a hand up to everybody. Every child, every American willing to work hard and take responsibility for their own successes."
The president added that even though the United States is the land of opportunity, there are some Americans who are consistently doing worse, generation after generation. And the My Brother's Keeper initiative is a new solution to help close the achievement gap among black and Hispanic youth.
Believing that Americans are becomming numb to the education, labor, economic and mortality statistics refelected in poor black and Hispanic communities, Obama commenetd that "we assume this is an inevitable part of American life," and added that Americans should be outraged.
Obama asserted that these moral and economic issues are negatively impacting the U.S., and are among the reasons why he wants all sectors of the community to take action and find solutions to these unresolved problems.
"I'm reaching out to some of America's leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential," Obama said.
My Brother's Keeper is a collaborative effort between the White House and government agencies, such as the Department of Education, that will maintain a website to "assess outcomes for boys and young men of color," and a private sector partnership with local businesses, corporations and philanthropic foundations.
Obama announced that the White House will partner with nine sponsoring foundations that have already approved or awarded $150 million to expand opportunities, and are committed to investing $200 million more over the next five years to "find and rapidly spread solutions that have the highest potential for impact in key areas."
The key areas of impact being targeted include: early child development and school readiness, parenting and parent engagement, third grade literacy, educational opportunity and school discipline reform, interactions with the criminal justice system, ladders to jobs, economic opportunity and healthy families and communities.
By connecting boys with leaders in the business sector to provide a support network, the administration believes young men of color will attain the skills they need to find jobs, go to college, and join the middle class so they can contribute to their families and communities.
The administration will "do its part by helping to identify and promote programs that work," a White House spokesman said.
According to Obama, these foundations will "work over the next 90 days to design a strategy and infrastructure for coordination of these investments, which can be aligned with additional commitments from a diverse array of actors from other sectors."
Obama also commented on recently released data which shows that boys and young men of color, regardless of their socio-economic background, are reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade.
"Eighty-six percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys are reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade, compared to 58 percent of white boys reading below proficiency levels," accordng to the White House.
The president also mentioned the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic men who are unemployed or cycling through the criminal justice system, noting that it's a "perilous drag on state budgets, and undermines family and community stability."
"These 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," Obama added.
Obama will also sign a presidential memorandum establishing the My Brother's Keeper Task Force, an interagency effort, chaired by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson.
Johnson will "help to determine what public and private efforts are working and how to expand upon them, how the federal government's policies and programs can better support these efforts, and how to better involve state and local officials, the private sector, and the philanthropic community in these efforts," a White House official said in a statement.
The Task Force will work across executive departments and agencies to:
- Assess the impact of federal policies, regulations and programs of general applicability on boys and young men of color, so as to develop proposals that will enhance positive outcomes and eliminate or reduce negative ones.
- Recommend, where appropriate, incentives for the broad adoption by national, state, and local public and private decision makers of effective and innovative strategies and practices for providing opportunities to and improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.
- Create an administration-wide "What Works" online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.
- Develop a comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education that will assess, on an ongoing basis, critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color in absolute and relative terms.
- Work with external stakeholders to highlight the opportunities, challenges and efforts affecting boys and young men of color.
- Recommend to the president means of ensuring sustained efforts within the federal government and continued partnership with the private sector and philanthropic community as set forth in the presidential memorandum.
Along with investments from the business and philanthropic communities, the My Brother's Keeper initiative will include participation from elected officials who are expected to join the public-private sector collaborative efforts.
Obama first mentioned the My Brother's Keeper initiative during his State of the Union address last month.
"I'm reaching out to some of America's leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential," Obama said in his speech.
As part of Thursday's announcement, Obama met with a number of business leaders including: Joe Echevarria of Deloitte; NBC hall-of-famer Magic Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises; Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners; Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association; Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment; Rosalind Brewer of Sam's Club; Ken Chenault of American Express and Don Thompson of McDonald's.
The President was also joined by faith leaders, public sector leaders, and federal, state and local officials including: General Colin Powell, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; as well as participants of a youth guidance program called "Becoming a Man" that targets boys who live in Chicago's South Side.
Also in attendance at the White House was Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who will provide his analysis of the initiative on "The O'Reilly Factor" Thursday night.
During a pre-Super Bowl interview with Obama earlier this month, the president defended his administration's efforts to address problems within minority communities.
"We address it explicitly all the time. … Talking about the importance of men taking responsibility for their children. Talking about the importance of young people delaying gratification. Talking about the importance of when it comes to child rearing, paying child support, spending time with your kids, reading with them. So, whether it's getting publicity or not is a whole different question," Obama said.
The foundations that joined the president at the White House to launch the initiative include: The Annie E. Casey Foundation; The Atlantic Philanthropies; Bloomberg Philanthropies; The California Endowment; The Ford Foundation; The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; The Open Society Foundations; The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Kapor Center for Social Impact.