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Obama: 'My Brother’s Keeper' builds ladder of opportunity for young men of color

President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address this year on Jan. 28, 2014, and he proposed an initiative, "My Brother’s Keeper," intended to build ladders of opportunity for boys and young men of color.

President Barack Obama enters the East Room of the White House with Christian Campagne at the start of the "My Brother's Keeper," event, Feb. 27, 2014. "My Brother's Keeper" is an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color.
President Barack Obama enters the East Room of the White House with Christian Campagne at the start of the "My Brother's Keeper," event, Feb. 27, 2014. "My Brother's Keeper" is an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
18 year old Christian Champagne, from the Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago, laughs during his introduction of U.S. President Barack Obama (R) during an event in the East Room of the White House February 27, 2014 in Washington, DC.
18 year old Christian Champagne, from the Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago, laughs during his introduction of U.S. President Barack Obama (R) during an event in the East Room of the White House February 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Obama said of the initiative that evening to the applause of Congress, "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."

President Obama launched "My Brother’s Keeper" today – a new initiative to help every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead. Continuing to make good on his pledge to use his "pen and phone" to make 2014 a year of action, Obama invited the foundation leaders, corporate executives, and community leaders to this East Room of the White House for an event to enlist a wide cross-section.

Obama was introduced in the East Room of the White House by Christian Champagne, 18, a senior at Hyde Park Career Center in Chicago. Champagne is a member of the "Becoming a Man" program, (B.A.M.) which provides a safe place to learn skills and stay on track in school.

President Obama visited the group last year and shared his own story of the challenges he faced as a young man, Champagne said. Behind the president stood other young members of the B.A.M. program, as well as students from similar programs in Washington, D.C. Also in attendance were notables former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Magic Johnson, political commentator Bill O'Reilly, Rev. Al Sharpton, Sen. Cory Booker, and many others representing the initiative's broad bipartisan coalition.

"This is an issue of national importance -- it's as important as any issue that I work on. It's an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President," Obama said. "If America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country. That's the core idea."

Obama then talked about the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative, "After months of conversation with a wide range of people, we’ve pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, nonprofits, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success. And we’re committed to building on what works. And we call it 'My Brother’s Keeper.' Now, just to be clear -- 'My Brother’s Keeper' is not some big, new government program."

He added that "In my State of the Union address, I outlined the work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth and opportunity for all Americans."

Obama talked about some government initiatives he was discussing, but made clear, "What we’re talking about here today with 'My Brother’s Keeper' is a more focused effort on boys and young men of color who are having a particularly tough time. And in this effort, government cannot play the only -- or even the primary -- role. We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can’t replace the power of a parent who’s reading to that child. We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it's not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life."

"As Mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg -- Michael Bloomberg, who’s here today, started a 'Young Men’s Initiative' for African-American and Latino boys, because he understood that in order for America to compete we need to make it easier for all our young people to do better in the classroom and find a job once they graduate," said Obama.

Obama mentioned that the Reverend Al Sharton and Fox news host Bill O'Reilly were involved and present. "And if I can persuade Sharpton and O’Reilly to be in the same meeting, said Obama to laughter and applause. "Then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done, even if we don't agree on everything. And that's our focus."

Obama ended by saying that "My Brother’s Keeper" is about helping more of our young people stay on track; providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future; building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.

Obama also emphasized we are all in this together. That "my neighbor’s child is my child" and that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.

President Obama signed the Presidential Memorandum, establishing the "My Brother’s Keeper Task Force," that will accomplish the following:

  • 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.

Investments from Leading Foundations and Businesses to Advance the Achievement of Boys and Young Men of Color. Leading foundations and businesses have long worked with others in philanthropy to create opportunities for young men and boys of color and today are committing significant resources to research critical intervention points in the lives of boys and young men of color; change the often-damaging narrative about them; and catalyze coordinated investments to seed, replicate, and scale up effective community solutions.

The foundations who are joined President Obama at today’s announcement, included 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.

President Obama also met with a number of business leaders – including Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Magic Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment – to discuss ways in which they and their companies can work with the Initiative to improve the life outcomes of boys and young men of color.

The President was also be joined today by public sector leaders including General Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Honorable Michael Bloomberg. Additionally, several other prominent members of the business community—including Rosalind Brewer of Sam’s Club, Ken Chenault of American Express, and Don Thompson of McDonald’s—have already expressed their support for this effort, and the White House expects additional commitments in the coming days and months.

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Sources:

White House blog - My Brother's Keeper initiative

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Send John Presta an email and your story ideas or suggestions, johnpresta@att.net.

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