My Brother’s Keeper: A New White House Initiative to Empower Boys and Young Men of Color

Keeper Event

A student eyes the Emancipation Proclamation as the President gave students from William R. Harper High School in Chicago a tour of the Oval Office, June 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Today, from the East Room of the White House, President Obama will launch a new effort aimed at empowering boys and young men of color, a segment of our society which too often faces disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success. These obstacles are found in our schools, our communities, our criminal justice system, our families, and even in the minds of our young people themselves. The President is committed to build a broad coalition of backers to help break down barriers, clear pathways to opportunity, and reverse troubling trends which show too many of our boys and young men of color slipping through the cracks in our society.

To launch the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the President will be joined by local and national leaders in philanthropy, business, government, faith communities, and media.  The challenges facing boys and young men of color are broad and multidimensional, and so must be the team we bring to the table to begin fostering solutions.

On hand today will be General Colin Powell, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Adam Silver, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, Magic Johnson, and many more leaders from key national and regional philanthropic foundations and major businesses, all of whom understand what is at stake with this effort.  When we let this many boys and young men fall behind – we are crippling our ability to reach our full potential as a nation.

For decades, opportunity has disproportionately lagged behind for boys and young men of color – particularly in our African American and Latino communities.  As recently as 2013, only 14 percent of black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys scored proficient or above on the 4th grade reading component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress compared to 42 percent of white boys and 21 percent of black and Hispanic girls. Youth who cannot read “proficiently” by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by 19.

By the time students have reached 9th grade, 42 percent of black male students have been suspended or expelled during their school years, compared to 14 percent of white male students. While black youth account for 16 percent of the youth population, they represent 28 percent of juvenile arrests, and 37 percent of the detained population. While just over 6 percent of the overall population, black males of all ages accounted for 43 percent of murder victims in 2011.

The fraction of young men not working or enrolled in school is nearly twice as high for blacks than whites. Those neither working nor in school are not building the skills and experience needed to ensure their ability to succeed later in life.

Across the country, communities are developing and implementing promising and proven approaches to help put our young people on paths to opportunity and success.  Using intensive tutoring, the Becoming A Man program and the University of Chicago are demonstrating that dramatic improvements in math performance can be cost effectively made with middle school boys in Chicago.

The Miami public school system is serving thousands of students in dozens of schools with targeted interventions to lower dropout rates.

Restorative Justice programs used in Los Angeles contributed to a 38 percent reduction in suspensions, cutting black student suspensions in half.

In New York, the Young Men’s Initiative is validating the significant impacts the ASAP program is having on the college persistence rates of African American and Latino young men. These efforts are cause not only for hope, but for a renewed sense of urgency. As we learn more about what works, our resolve to act now must strengthen.  This initiative is about building on successes and promising ideas in the field by testing, implementing, and scaling-up strategies which have been shown to have the greatest impact at key moments in these boys’ lives.


A New Presidential Task Force to Expand Opportunity.

President Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum today, establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, an interagency effort, chaired by the Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, that will help us determine what public and private efforts are working and how to expand upon them.

The Task Force will work across executive departments and agencies to:

  • Assess and suggest improvements to Federal policies, regulations, and programs that apply to boys and young men of color.
  • Create an Administration-wide “What Works” online portal to disseminate programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color, while promoting incentives for private and public entities to develop and adopt strategies that have been proven to be effective.
  • 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.
  • Recommend to the President means for ensuring this effort is sustained for years to come within government and across public and private sectors.

Key Investments by Leading Foundations and Businesses

The foundations supporting today’s call to action have already made extensive investments, including $150 million in current spending that they have already approved or awarded. Building on that, today these foundations are announcing that over the next five years they seek to invest at least $200 million, alongside additional investments from their peers in philanthropy and the business community, to find and rapidly spread solutions that have the highest potential for impact in key areas.

The 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.


This is just the start of an effort that will continue to build over the coming months and years. When research clearly shows us a problem that needs fixing, it is our responsibility as leaders to band together to start implementing solutions. When we do – we will not only see better outcomes for boys and young men of color, we will see the entire country begin to fulfill its full potential.

Learn more about the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. Broderick Johnson is Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary.

17 Comments

  1. My Brother’s Keeper: Ingredients for Success

    We were pleased to hear about the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. As President Obama indicated, young men of color are at greater risk for a wide variety of problems, largely due to poorer living conditions in which they are raised. The consequences for the nation are substantial. Economist Ted Miller estimated the cost of the most common youth problems, including antisocial behavior, binge drinking, cocaine/heroin abuse, high-risk sexual behavior, tobacco use, high school dropouts, and suicide attempts. For all youth in the nation, the total is about $462 billion annually. Minority youth contribute to a larger proportion of this figure than their numbers given multiple disadvantages on an individual and societal level.

    It is important to understand that these diverse problems are inter-related and stem from the same set of adverse conditions which are more prevalent in high poverty neighborhoods where African Americans are in the majority. Children in these communities experience a lack of resources ranging from families suffering from low wages and unemployment, to poorly equipped schools and inaccessible health care services. These children are also more likely to encounter high levels of conflict, threat, dysfunction and deprivation in their lives and, thus, do not develop adequate self-regulation skills. The aggressive behavior that often emergencies in these children is, in turn, associated with academic failure, peer rejection, affiliation with other troubled kids and family problems. By early adolescence, groups of troubled youth frequently experiment with substance use, delinquency, and risky sexual behavior.

    In the interest of minority youth and, in fact, all children and adolescents, we need to build a world class national prevention system. The Institute of Medicine’s report on prevention in 2009 identifies science-based interventions and policies that are capable of preventing the development of virtually the entire range of psychological problems that hamper the development of children and adolescents who are at risk due to poverty and related social and environmental conditions. In summarizing the extensive evidence for the efficacy of prevention, the IOM report concluded that “The scientific foundation has been created for the nation to begin to create a society in which young people arrive at adulthood with the skills, interests, assets, and health habits needed to live healthy, happy, and productive lives in caring relationships with others.” Many of these programs have been implemented already across the country, but only on a piecemeal basis; they need to be institutionalized.

    The U.S. can significantly improve the success of its young people by ensuring that the nation puts in place programs, policies, and practices that are supported by rigorous scientific evidence for their effectiveness. Many initiatives in the past have not produced favorable results largely due to the lack of concern for the quality of programs and the rigor with which they were implemented and evaluated. It is a significant undertaking that requires several years of concerted effort, but if we can unite everyone around a common understanding of what is needed, we can build a system to support child and adolescent development and prevent problems to a degree never before seen in human history… accompanied by a substantial cost savings.

    A comprehensive and effective prevention system would have five facets: (a) An effective and nurturing system of family supports; (b) Effective positive behavioral supports in all schools; (c) A set of well-tested and proven prevention programs and policies; (d) Ongoing public education about prevention and accurate information about mental and behavioral health, including violence and drug abuse; and (e) A system for monitoring the wellbeing of children and adolescents. (See attached for more details on this five facet model.) Such a system should be built in stages with careful attention to the effective implementation of evidence-based interventions. It might begin by concentrating resources in a small number of high poverty communities, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone and also other “Promise Neighborhoods” which are currently being supported by another Presidential initiative. The impact of the effort should be carefully evaluated—not because “more research is needed” (though it is) —but because rigorous evaluation should routinely be built into every social program for continuous improvement, to amass evidence of the effects programs, and for citizens to judge the benefits of these efforts.

    The newly formed Coalition for Science-Based Solutions to Promote Child and Adolescent Well-being strives to improve the health and wellbeing of children, adolescents, families and communities by (1) promoting a science-driven approach to preventing risks and disadvantages; (2) building bridges between researchers and child/adolescent-serving organizations, advocacy groups and influencers of public policy and media; and (3) working with government to adopt a “prevention model” that would reduce costs while benefitting society. We stand with and are ready to work with My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and partnering philanthropic and business sectors to equalize the playing field for all children and youth to have the opportunity to lead happy, healthy and successful lives.

    ========================================================================================================
    Anthony Biglan, Ph.D., Oregon Research Institute, Coauthor of the IOM Report on Prevention and Former President of the Society for Prevention Science
    Diana Fishbein, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Translational Research on Adversity, Neurodevelopment and Substance abuse, University of Maryland School of Medicine
    Neil Wollman, Ph.D., Chair of the “Prevention Project” and Organized Two Congressional Briefings on this topic, from Bentley University

    On behalf of the Coalition for Science-Based Solutions to Promote Child and Adolescent Well-being
    Address correspondence to Neil Wollman; Senior Fellow, Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility; Bentley University; Waltham, MA, 02452; NWollman@Bentley.edu;
    Prevention Project Web Site
    http://www.preventionproject.us/

  2. How does the Department of Education plan to facilitate the enactment of the My Brother’s Keeper Program? Also, how does a non-profit organization go about becoming a part of this program in our neighborhood? What are the qualification criteria and how can we obtain them?

  3. I have a group of black and hispanic boys the I meet with weekly. We are a Title I school and presently challenge by the lack of responsiblity from the parents concerning their child. I present have a in house of 3-5 grade boys. We do liteature, math, mentorship, go on trips and etc. I meet with them 2.5 hrs. a week. I need more funding to get more on the trips and involve their families.

  4. I think this program would be very beneficial to all children not just men of color. Part of the problem in our country is that we have our President sorting out people by color. There seems to be a big enough divide already. What we need is unity. Boys of color are not the only ones that could use support and direction. What if the program was all inclusive? Having a diverse program would not only help kids individually but would break down walls that divide us. When people come together for the same purpose there is a neutrality that occurs, a bonding of sorts, fears are lifted when you get to know people and realize the exterior doesn’t matter it’s what is inside. I am a single parent of a 17 year old boy. Through the years there have been difficult times, times when my son could have used a program like this. Tutors cost and I didn’t have the money for that. The schools may have some tutors but not always available and not everyday. My son has been looking for a job to no avail. Who’s reaching out to him to help him. Oh yeah, We are white so somehow it’s different. No! It isn’t. These programs should be based on need not color.

    • We are already separated out by color. I live in a city of Stop & Frisk and even though, as a parent I have raised respectable middle class young men of color, they are subject to humiliation just because they are who they are, not because of anything that they have done. It is scary to have had to tell my sons that they must not make sudden moves if they see police. I’d rather tell them that the police are their friends and are there to help them. But time after time thats not how they are approached. They are suspect even when they are on their way home because they don’t “look like” the other people who live here. They din’t ask for this kind of world. I wish it wasn’t that way.

    • Just because we are already separated by color does not mean that it’s the right thing. Children of all backgrounds, cultures, and “colors” live in poverty and require assistance and more attention. Yes, I understand that there is a higher percentage of blacks and hispanics who live in these areas, however it still makes absolutely no logical sense why we should target color as opposed to economic statuses. Just saying, it’s policies like these which reinforce boundaries and create more discrimination and room for tensions and misunderstanding.

  5. My question is: Where are the women of color? Girls in the minorities deserve the same opportunities. As a math teacher I see many girls that are struggling to be proficient in math from K-12. I am also concerned about the children in low poverty that are not in this minority group. These student must have support to break the cycle of poverty that has become generational.

  6. As the director of our community’s teen center, I am very interested in how these efforts will rollout and eager to be involved. It has been my experience that it is difficult to find mentors and role models to work with youth over the long haul. We offer recreation and leadership opportunities through our facility, but while the basketball courts and game room are full, the leadership clubs and volunteer projects are often in need of more participants. Well organized volunteer projects and leadership development opportunities offer youth an opportunity to find focus in their own lives as they gain valuable skills and training that aid in job search and employment. We can do all manner of things to get youth ready for higher ed, work and life as adults, but to buy in they must SEE that there is something that they are getting ready for, and it must be more than a part time, minimum wage job. Count us in!

  7. I am pleased to see our president is seeking ways to improve the life of young black men. However the initiative he speaks of was allready syarted in Ohio with Gov. Strickland six years ago. the problem has been sustainability for such intiatives. I hope this time we find a way keep our brothers for more than the feel good time of launching the intiative.

  8. This is an excellent opportunity for our young Black males. I am very interested in participating in the process. How can I be involved in the process (i.e. implementation, research, project management?

  9. CT’s Developing Tomorrow’s Professionals, a program we have been doing for 7 years, is exactly the type of program the President is talking about. This is a collaborative program among the State Department of Education, Southern CT State University, the several CT school districts. Program is for minority males and intent is to provide an environment that encourages academic and technical skills, college readiness and a plethora of social skills. Results have been dynamic – college enrollment for this group is 100%, with a high rate of graduation. I have emailed the state director the article and asked him to provide further information

  10. As always let’s help the minority and leave the average whites alone
    You know the ones who go to school and want and education!!!!
    The ones who do what is expected of them open your eyes it is them who are slipping through the cracks!!

    • I’m so sorry you feel that way! I know it wasn’t meant in they way that you received it. All children deserve a fine education and I will always fight for that right, and a a 30+ year urban educator and a mom, I have professionally and personally experienced the difference in choices and opportunity based on race alone. If you are so inclined, read the Schott Foundation on Urban Education 50 state report on Graduation rates for High School students. It might give you some insight to why such initiatives are still needed. African American boys want to go to school and do the right thing too!

  11. A New White House Initiative to Empower Boys and Young Men of Color
    I am glad to see that President Obama has addressed this crisis that has and continues to destroy young boys of color. Research has shown that behavior is maintained by re-enforcing events in our environment. These events can be leading one to their destruction. Many people do not understand why someone would want to continue a behavior that has killed so many; like dealing drugs, and other destructive behavior. The reason is because these boys of color are getting positive re-enforcement (although negative) from their peers because they may be making large sums of money. Poverty has classically conditioned these young boys of color to seek out money (stimulus) by any means necessary because it defines them as a person. Self-esteem that includes positive re-enforcement from an adult (parent, mentor, teacher, and community) is needed to shape pro-social behavior. Many teachers complain that the boys of color start kindergarten not prepared to learn, and this attitude (learned behavior) toward education continues and is passed on to the next generation. Doctor West (social psychologist) stated that we must take the wisdom from our ancestors and teach these boys of color to have pride in themselves. The schools need to incorporate problem solving classes that provide positive reinforcement, positive praise, and a token economy program to go along with the three R’s as part of the education process. This brings home and the community to the school to teach pride and educate boys of color. It takes a village!
    I will be glad to provide an evidenced based problem solving program with the suggestions I made. The program is entitled The COPE for Life Program (A copyright program in the Library of Congress in the Public Catalog). Carl, MS, psychology, ABA

  12. Our small Rotary Club is interested in this initiative. We are a small, rural community in Virginia. How can we become part of this ?

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