This post originally appeared on the Breakfast Club Blog on March 24, 2015. Learn more about the current work of MBK, here.
A year ago February [February 2014], President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative (MBK).
The goal of MBK was to lift up and strengthen any and all efforts that were “helping more young men of color stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.”
As a lifelong youth worker, my professional calling has been dedicated to those “life-changing moments.” As a mother of two young boys of color, I am singularly focused on connecting my sons to as many opportunities to “stay on track” and keep a broad focus on their future as possible – with afterschool programs being an essential trump card in my deck. And, as a mother of young boys of color, I also worry about the too-frequent moments in between where my proactive efforts and positive encouragement may not be enough: those equally life-changing moments in which boys’ of color potential is undermined and they are viewed as threats rather than assets.
This past year in particular, I, along with many around the nation, have reflected on the moments that intersect with the lives of young people of color.
Both those that offer promise and those that portend threat. Bridging the divide, at a systemic level, between such fundamentally different moments seems to be what My Brother’s Keeper is about.
Over the last three months, I’ve been working as a facilitator among community leaders in the City of Detroit, one of 160 communities that have accepted the President’s MBK Community Challenge to cities to focus, align and re-double their efforts to lift up boys and young men of color. According to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a reboot and rededication of resources is desperately needed. Twenty years ago, the Urban Institute profiled 51 “promising” or “effective” programs tackling issues related to black male achievement.
Ten years later, the survey found that 25% of those organizations no longer existed and 50% ended their focused work on black male achievement. In other words, 3 in 4 of such programs were lost. In the meantime, students of color are up to four times more likely to be suspended or expelled and make up more than 70% of those involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement.
In short, there are too few programs like ours that are squarely focused on maximizing promise and potential, and too many moments in direct opposition to those that might positively surround them – supportive and affirming programs (both in school and out), strong and supported families, and caring and engaged community members. In light of these realities, cities like Detroit are trying to reboot and renew the promise bargain between boys of color and the nation.
If we are to “keep our young brothers” and help them to keep themselves then we have to do more.
We have to do more to close the gap between the diametrically opposite experiences of promise and peril that so many young people – and especially boys of color – face. We have to do more to combat the pervasive structures that cause harm – systemic bias, chronic community trauma, and weakened supports for families trying to make it – in addition to keeping as many life-affirming programs going as possible. It is a monumental task, but not entirely un-scalable. If we believe that boys of color hold promise for our nation, then let’s continue the work of keeping some brothers – and let’s hold up our end of the promise bargain. We indeed have many brothers (and promises) to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
This morning I had cereal and orange juice for breakfast.
Author Profile: @aliciaw
Image Source: Kirwan Institute