President Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper initiative has clear potential but, unless modified significantly, will not be the remedy, especially for Black boys and young men. Its funding is insufficient to make a discernible difference in their lives. Moreover, the initiative’s “Boys and Men of Color,” also includes Latinos and Asians. This means the focus necessary to adequately help young Black men is unlikely because funding will probably be allocated equally rather than equitably. If young Black men receive equal funding, they lose out, because on balance, their problems are arguably greater than other groups receiving the same money but have less serious problems. Funding must be equitable not equal.
My Brothers’ Keeper is a presidential initiative to work with non-profit organizations and the private sector to build “ladders of opportunity for boys and young men of color.” However, Black men have the highest incarceration rates, the lowest educational achievement and higher unemployment. Whether this is taken into full account is a pivotal issue.
Economist Julianne Malveaux: “While I think my Brothers’ Keeper has tremendous potential given the socioeconomic status of African American men, there is not yet enough meat on the bones to judge.” She connects My Brother’s Keeper to her concern about the president’s nominees to the Georgia District Court. There are six vacancies on that court but he chose to nominate four Republicans-including two social conservatives in a state that is 31% African American- and only one Black. Malveaux contends that the young men Obama lifts up in My Brothers’ Keeper might be the same ones denied the right to vote through Georgia’s voter suppression laws.
According to the Obama Administration, ten major foundations (and twenty smaller contributors) have signed up to support My Brothers’ Keeper and will fund $200 million of programs over the next five years. This is actually very little to spend on such a broad initiative. It is estimated that if the My Brothers’ Keeper money was applied only to the approximately 8 million Black men and boys under 25 in the country—and the program also seeks to help Latinos and Asians- that would amount to about $5 per person per year.
The ten foundations that have made a firm commitment have pledged far less, each putting in $750,000 for a total of $7.5 million. Most of them already spend in this area and had already planned to spend more in the future. And it is clear that $200 million alone, if found, will not fix the chances for every targeted young man. However, since it can make a difference for some, this effort is worthwhile- providing the money is spent right and targets the right priorities. (So far, there is no new plan or approach for how to improve the life chances of the young men targeted. (Hopefully, My Brothers’ Keeper is more important to the president than speculation that he is trying to prove how much he can get done without Congress.)
The challenges and familiar statistics notwithstanding, My Brothers’ Keeper should be supported but with eyes wide open. The enormity of the plight of Black young men alone should be motivation enough for broad support to get behind it: One out of three of Black youth can expect to be incarcerated in his life; one out of 15 is behind bars, etc. Poverty, failing schools, joblessness, violence, lack of vision and hopelessness are the sordid underbelly of the cold statistics. Their problems are so disproportionate to all other groups, greater focus and sustainable equitable funding for solutions should be a top priority, for the federal government as well as state and local jurisdictions.
Brenda Stevenson, professor of History, University of California Los Angeles, points out that recent high-profile judicial cases involving young Black men underscore a disparity in the Justice System that African Americans have always known. She mentions that recently, the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed by George Zimmerman, organized a rally and memorial of his death two years ago. The case again caught national attention on February 15th when Michael Dunn, a white man, facing murder charges in Florida for shooting unarmed Black teen Jordan Davis, received a mistrial on the murder charge because of a hung jury. Davis was found guilty of four lesser charges, including attempted murder. Stevenson: “These events are not just the opening of new wounds they are a combination of fresh and old wounds for African Americans.” She too connects Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis’ deaths to My Brother’s Keepers intoning, “Young African Americans, particularly men, are informed early in life that they are more susceptible to being regarded as guilty by nature.”
My Brothers’ Keeper is designed to address what President Obama has called the plight of young boys and men of color, especially those who are Black, the moral issue of the 21st century. However, My Brothers’ Keeper, no matter how well intentioned, does not provide the focus and resources necessary to address the latter’s needs; by any metric, they are the most disenfranchised and in dire need. My Brothers’ Keeper is a start and deserves support, providing it allocates funding and other resources, not equally but equitably, so that the needs of young Black boys and men are dealt with adequately. They deserve no less.