In February of this year, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success. The initiative aims to bring together government, law enforcement, business, non-profit, philanthropic, faith, and community leaders around shared goals for young people in this country.
And now, the Administration is taking this effort local, by engaging Mayors, tribal leaders, and county executives who are stepping up to lead in their communities. In a speech this past Saturday at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) awards dinner, President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, which will encourage communities (cities, counties, suburbs, rural municipalities, and tribal nations) to implement coherent cradle-to-college-and-career strategies aimed at improving life outcomes for all young people, consistent with the goals and recommendations of the White House’s MBK Task Force’s May, 2014 report. Rather than build a new federal program, or provide a top-down solution to problems that are often unique to local neighborhoods, the President has called upon local leaders, and sought to provide them the support and momentum they need, to design and implement strategies that are proven to work to address a set of challenges that are too often taken on in silos.
There is already incredible work being done by elected and community leaders around the country. This MBK Community Challenge is about harnessing that energy, expanding upon it, and operationalizing plans of action to functionally channel it at the local level.
“We need to address the unique challenges that make it hard for some of our young people to thrive,” the President told a packed house at Saturday’s CBC awards dinner. “[W]e all know relatives, classmates, neighbors who were just as smart as we were, just as capable as we were, born with the same light behind their eyes, the same joy, the same curiosity about the world -- but somehow they didn’t get the support they needed, or the encouragement they needed, or they made a mistake, or they missed an opportunity; [so] they weren’t able to overcome the obstacles that they faced.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher for our young people, or our country, which is why we’re seeing such eagerness from local officials and community leaders. Already,135 mayors, county officials, tribal leaders, Democrats, and Republicans have signed on. And we’re going to keep welcoming them aboard in the coming weeks and months. These are the leaders that often sit at the intersection of many of the vital systems and structural components needed to enact sustainable change through policy, programs, and partnerships.
But even with leadership from the top in these communities, this must be an all-hands-on-deck effort. To that end, business leaders, non-profits, philanthropies, and local school-systems are organizing themselves independently to support communities’ efforts.
No child in this country should feel like they need to “beat the odds” in order to get ahead, and certainly shouldn’t feel like they are on their own as they try. Our young people deserve better than that, and as a country, we can’t afford to let so many of our children, our future workers, and our future leaders slip through the cracks.
Already on the ground in communities from coast to coast, leaders are responding to the President’s challenge. They are convening stakeholders, setting up data standards, setting goals and priorities, and preparing to redouble their efforts to give every young person a real shot at success, no matter who they are, where there from, or the circumstances into which they were born. Because when we work together to help all young people reach their full potential, we will be that much closer to reaching our full potential as a nation. The My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge is a call to action, and we all have a role to play.
Broderick Johnson is an Assistant to the President, White House Cabinet Secretary, and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and Jim Shelton is the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education, and the Executive Director of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force