Imagine a life where you must confront violence in your community and in your own home. Imagine that this unforgiving environment could determine your destiny. This is the life that confronted a young man named Malachi Hernandez. And as a young man of color, he does not represent an exception to the rule. Yet, instead of stories of hopelessness, for Malachi and so many of his peers across the nation, different narratives are being written―stories of remarkable success, self-determination, and work ethic. They are succeeding with the help of committed and determined leaders, volunteers, and caring adults.
Malachi was born and raised in Boston. As a child, he would frequently hear gunshots in his neighborhood and often witness the brutality and cruelty of domestic violence in his home. In his young life, Hernandez has faced many challenges that most could not even imagine.
Three years ago, this week, former President Barack Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), an initiative established to help boys and young men of color like Malachi. From the outset, MBK was designed to take an evidence based, community driven approach to remove barriers―from cradle to college and career―that impede the progress of boys and young men of color.
When he launched MBK from the East Room of the White House, President Obama told the nation that, “if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country.” Today, we have entire generations of Latino, African American, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander boys and young men who―often despite their own best efforts―have not been afforded the same opportunities as others.
For Malachi, over the course of his childhood, the opportunities have been limited. However, he is overcoming obstacles and setbacks and has been embraced by a community determined to see him succeed. Through the city of Boston’s MBK initiative, Malachi found a mentor, who pushes him to do better in school and to keep striving for success. Malachi’s mentor has shown him that, despite difficult circumstances growing up, there is a different path towards achievement. Malachi is now a student at Northeastern University and a community leader in his own right. But Malachi’s story must not be the exception.
Inspired by President Obama’s call to action, a new non-profit – My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance) was launched in May 2015. We bring together business, philanthropy, nonprofit, government, community organizations and other influencers to help young people redefine their future. We help to identify, invest and build what works―focusing on work that is happening at a local level to address issues such as education, employment, violence prevention and reentry. And, we are working with others to provide opportunities for young men from cradle to career, so that those programs can be expanded or replicated. But to create the change we need, we must all continue to do the groundwork in cities and communities nationwide.
Together, with My Brother’s Keeper Challenge Communities across all 50 States, D.C., and Puerto Rico, MBK Alliance will continue to promote and develop engagements and resources to support the work being done by advocates and champions on the ground, including opportunity summits, data dashboards, communities of learning and innovation resources.
In 2016, we hosted community conversations in five cities nationwide, including the Bronx, Greensboro, Detroit, Seattle and Oakland.
Each exchange provided young people with a unique platform to share their voices in a community setting. The corporate sector is also recognizing its vital role. For instance, we also worked within two of these cities to successfully pilot opportunity summits.
These two events, in Oakland and Detroit, created pathways to success, and resulted in immediate jobs, resources and supports for more than 2,000 boys and young men of color.
In 2017, we will be supporting MBK Challenge Communities across the nation to advance this important work. In June, the MBK Alliance will join Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, FedEx, the Greater Memphis Chamber and other partners to host an opportunity summit in Tennessee. MBK Alliance Opportunity Summits create networks and expand infrastructure, to support boys and young men of color, in gaining and retaining employment.
Additionally, MBK Alliance and Sprint joined forces in 2016, setting a goal to bring wireless devices to one million high school students living in households without internet across the East and West Coast.
Finally, the importance of policy work on behalf of boys and young men of color cannot be overstated. Progress on this front is underway in many cities across the nation. Earlier this year, in New York (the first state to accept the President’s challenge), top education leaders convened to discuss how to raise educational achievement for boys and young men of color. Last year, policymakers spearheading the state’s MBK efforts secured $20 million from the legislature, developing a grant program to encourage the recruitment of a diverse pool of high-quality teachers, along with family and community engagement, and programs focused on college and career success.
On December 14, 2016, during the final MBK convening at the White House, President Obama reminded those assembled that “this is something I will be invested in for the rest of my life” and intends to carry his commitment to his vision and the mission of MBK well beyond his departure from the Oval Office.
That’s how it is for us and for the legions of adults who have had the privilege of working on MBK in government and in the private sector. The lives of millions of boys and young men of color are at stake. As is the future of our nation.
The article was originally published by the Huffington Post.