Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative spins off from White House

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Liz Goodwin
·Senior National Affairs Reporter
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President Barack Obama greets guests from Youth Guidance’s BAM (Becoming a Man) program at the White House in 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama’s multimillion-dollar initiative to boost young minority men and boys is spinning off from the White House and becoming an independent foundation, in preparation for his departure from the Oval Office in 2017. 

Obama will speak at an event at Lehman College in the Bronx on Monday afternoon announcing the new nonprofit, called My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. The White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative will continue to operate after the new non-profit launches, but the new foundation will ensure the project continues after the president vacates Pennsylvania Avenue.

Eliminating achievement gaps and increasing opportunities for young men of color is expected to be one of Obama’s key postpresidential causes. My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance) will be modeled in part after the Clinton Global Initiative, started by former President Bill Clinton in 2005. The foundation will channel corporate and individual donations to existing programs for minority youth, with an emphasis on local programs that can be replicated in other cities. 

Joe Echevarria — the former CEO of the accounting firm Deloitte and a leader of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force’s private-sector initiative — has taken a leadership role in forming the new organization. Many of the 11 groups that are part of My Brother’s Keeper will remain involved. 

It’s unclear exactly what the president’s role will be in the group, though associates expect him to remain involved with MBK Alliance after he leaves office. The plight of young minority men and boys is an issue that Obama is expected to be involved with for the rest of his life, alongside first lady Michelle Obama.

“I expect a substantive and lasting impact from the new organization,” said Robert K. Ross, president of the California Endowment, a nonprofit involved in My Brother’s Keeper. “The president will rally corporate, nonprofit, civic and faith leaders to the cause of these young men, and this will have an energizing effect on young men of color themselves.”

Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper last year and has raised commitments and donations of $400 million from private companies and foundations. The money goes to programs to help lift minority boys’ reading scores by the third grade — a key predictor of future success — as well as providing job training, mentoring, and other support to boost employment and graduation rates. The NBA, AT&T and nonprofits such as the California Endowment have provided the startup money. Hundreds of towns and cities have also signed up for the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, which asks community leaders to collaborate to ensure that young men of color have the tools they need to succeed.

The issue is deeply personal to the president, who has said that he sees himself in the young minority men he’s met through the program.

“I believe the continuing struggles of so many boys and young men — the fact that too many of them are falling by the wayside, dropping out, unemployed, involved in negative behavior, going to jail, being profiled — this is a moral issue for our country,” the president said last year in the East Room of the White House when he launched the initiative. “It’s also an economic issue for our country.”

In addition to its local focus, the group will have a broader mission to change the narrative around the nation’s black youth by getting more positive images of young minorities into the media. And the foundation will likely have a policy arm, working with state and federal governments to adopt laws and policies that help young men of color.

Obama first directed his close advisers to develop My Brother’s Keeper after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013. Martin, who was black, was killed when a neighborhood watchman got out of his car to question the teen for acting “suspicious.” Obama was moved by the death and spoke about it as an example of how assumptions about young minority men lead them to be treated differently by police and society.

The issue has only become more prominent since then. Rioting in Baltimore this week following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody has revived an ongoing debate in the country about the way young black and other minority men are treated by the police, and the nation’s criminal justice system as a whole. A recent New York Times analysis found that 1.5 million black men in America are “missing” — they are in jail or died young, mostly from homicides. (Black men are six times more likely to be murdered than their white peers.)

In his speech announcing the program last year, Obama said that America had become “numb” to these bleak statistics. “It’s like a cultural backdrop for us — in movies and television,” he said. “We just assume, of course, it’s going to be like that. But these statistics should break our hearts. And they should compel us to act.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who left office just this week, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, helped the president craft the program. Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson chairs the task force.

Last year, some of Obama’s close advisers said that his commitment to the effort would last his entire life.

“I think it’s something that’s deeply personal to the president and first lady,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president and the Obamas’ closest friend from Chicago, told Yahoo News last year when the initiative launched. “I’m sure their commitment to this initiative will be a lifelong commitment. This is not something they simply want to do while he’s in office — it will continue.”

This post has been updated to reflect that the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper effort will continue to operate after MBK Alliance launches.