President Barack Obama, surrounded by young boys of color, announces his $200 million initiative to help young men of color find meaningful employment (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci).

President Obama is His Brothers’ Keeper

Last week President Barack Obama announced the launch of a new initiative called My Brother’s Keeper, meant to help men of color find employment through foundations, businesses and community groups.

“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,” said Obama at a press briefing Feb. 27. “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.”

According to the White House, My Brother’s Keeper will be “taking action in partnership with foundations, businesses, and others to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential.”

The initiative, deriving its name from the biblical story of Cain and Abel, was supposed to be launched on Feb. 13, but was postponed due to severe weather.

“Those that advocate for young men of color in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in these cities who deal with the drum beat of gun violence every day and high unemployment rates, they welcome the news,” said Trymaine Lee in a MSNBC interview, explaining that many of the problems facing youth of color are multi-tiered.

While the president is planning to work with many large groups, many grassroots groups in the Black community are looking to get involved with the My Brother’s Keeper initiative as well.

Kenny Carter, president of Fathers Alive in the Hood, an organization that tries to mentally engage families in communities of color, said they are already doing work around employment but would welcome help on a federal level.

He too pointed to the bigger picture however.

“Employment is just part of it; if you give someone a job and they are not mentally fit or educated they won’t be able to hold it. We want to work on personal issues so they can maintain these jobs for the long run,” Carter said addressing anger issues, emotional problems, educational setbacks and more that will be key to seeing My Brother’s Keeper become a success on the community level.

In his speech introducing My Brother’s Keeper, Obama mentioned many of the same problems outside of the classroom that hinder young Black men from succeeding.

He told a room full of young men that he remembers being angry, growing up with no father, smoking marijuana and not taking school seriously when he was their age.

“The only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe,” said Obama, explaining that he tells his story “because I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had.  And that’s why we’re here today.”

Obama called on community members, parents, teachers and business leaders to make the program possible.

My Brother’s Keeper has been a long time coming.

The president alluded to the initiative in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address when he said, “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.”

Still earlier than this, the president spoke about a need to uplift young African American men in his July remarks on the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

While this statement recognized the problem, Obama said it would be “a long-term project.”

Now, My Brother’s Keeper will start this long-term growth.

“At a time when the economy is growing, we’ve got to make sure that every American shares in that growth, not just a few,” said Obama pointing to education, job creation and preparedness, a living wage and retirement as ways to address this problem.

An administration official told the Washington Post that the initiative will consist of two parts. One focused on student preparedness and interactions with the criminal justice system and the second, an evaluation system meant to improve programs for minority boys.

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