“My administration’s policies—from early childhood education to job training, to minimum wages—are designed to give a hand up to everybody, every child, every American willing to work hard and take responsibility for their own success. That's the larger agenda.
But the plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society—groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.”
President Obama used these words to launch My Brother’s Keeper, his initiative to help ensure that boys and young men of color in America have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Since then, the public response has been overwhelming. We’ve heard from private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith organizations, community based non-profits, and thousands of interested citizens, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success for these boys and young men. We will continue to engage and listen to these critical voices and those of the boys and young men this initiative focuses on, as we continue to learn from the efforts of the many stakeholders who have been committed to this cause for years. And we will do our best to live up to the optimism and incredible expectations this initiative has unleashed.
The first phase of the initiative has already begun in earnest and we want to provide an update on our progress to date and a sense of what to expect in the near future.
The Task Force has begun a 90-day process to develop the plans and infrastructure required to implement and sustain the initiative’s efforts. We are currently listening and engaging, working with stakeholders across the country to get their feedback on how we can all work together to make this initiative a success.
On the day of the launch in February, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on “Creating and Expanding Ladders of Opportunity for Boys and Young Men of Color” which created a Federal Task Force to provide an assessment of and recommendations on how public and private actors can improve measurably expected educational and life outcomes and address persistent opportunity gaps. To inform that work, the President called for tools that will assess critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color and online engagement to lift up strategies, practices and programs with strong evidence of improving outcomes.
The Task Force’s work begins with identifying these critical indicators. We are focusing on five key moments that mark critical junctures on the path to healthy and productive adulthood: early learning and literacy, pathway to college and careers, ladders to jobs, mentors and support networks, and interactions with criminal justice and violent crime. Participating federal agencies are also now beginning to assess strategies, practices and programs to determine how they impact life outcomes for boys and young men of color. All of this work will inform a report by the Task Force on our progress and recommendations that we will submit to the President at the end of this 90-day listening and learning process.
At the same time, ten leading foundations have launched a private sector coalition that seeks to invest at least $200 million dollars over the next five years to find and rapidly spread solutions that have the highest potential for impact. This is on top of $150 million in current spending that these foundations have already committed toward this work. These foundations have announced they aim to put in place a strategy and infrastructure for coordination of their investments and additional commitments from a diverse array of actors from other sectors.
My Brother’s Keeper is focused on unlocking the full potential of boys and young men of color—something that will not only benefit them, but all of America. The Federal Task Force will pursue collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches to building ladders of opportunity. We are excited about the progress we are making and believe this effort has the potential to teach us a great deal about using evidence-based strategies to achieve the universal goals we have for all of our nation’s children.
Broderick Johnson is Assistant to the President and White House Cabinet Secretary, and the Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. Jim Shelton is the Deputy Secretary of Education and Executive Director of the Task Force.