How Obama Plans to ‘Keep’ His ‘Brothers’

My Brother’s Keeper: What’s the plan? Who is involved? What about girls? And what does all this say about the president’s legacy?

President Barack Obama delivers remarks about his My Brother’s Keeper initiative with students from Chicago’s Youth Guidance program, Becoming a Man, in the East Room at the White House, Feb. 27, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks about his My Brother’s Keeper initiative with students from Chicago’s Youth Guidance program, Becoming a Man, in the East Room at the White House, Feb. 27, 2014. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The administration has also highlighted Obama’s 2013 visit with members of the Chicago-based youth-guidance program Becoming a Man as inspiration for the undertaking. “I could see myself in these young men,” said the president. “The only difference was, I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving.”

3. What exactly is going to happen? Obama’s announcement today was couched in familiar themes about the above disparities, about his own upbringing and about his belief in the potential of all children to succeed. Also in the mix were his usual talking points on the importance of fathers being present and parents turning off the television, along with the “no excuses” personal-responsibility charge that’s now boilerplate for any messages he delivers directly to African-American audiences.

But two new, concrete efforts were rolled out. First, there’s the launch of a presidential task force chaired by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson. The idea here is that various executive departments and agencies will work together to help determine which existing public and private efforts are working when it comes to young men of color, and how to enhance them. This includes an administration-wide “What Works” online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes.

Then there’s what’s being called a “private-sector partnership.” The foundations involved in this effort have announced that over the next five years, they, along with peers in the philanthropy and business communities, will invest at least $200 million to “find and rapidly spread solutions” in White House-identified areas: early-childhood development and school readiness, parenting and parental engagement, third-grade literacy, educational opportunity and school-discipline reform, interactions with the criminal-justice system, ladders to jobs and economic opportunity, and healthy families and communities. The foundations’ first order of business—to be completed within the next 90 days—is to design a strategy and an infrastructure for how and where to invest the money.

4. So who gets to call the shots about where this money goes? The foundations joining President Obama include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. Many, according to the White House, are members of the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color—a coalition of philanthropic institutions committed to leveraging philanthropy’s role in improving life outcomes for boys and men of color.

Business leaders and elected officials who met with Obama before Thursday’s event, including Magic Johnson and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have already expressed their support for this effort.

5. Why young men and boys? Don’t girls need help, too? In response to a question about the initiative’s gender focus, Jarrett said, “What the data tells us is that boys and young men of color, regardless of economic status, are disproportionately at risk.” She pointed to the White House Council on Women and Girls as an example of where the administration is already addressing female-specific issues.

6. When can we expect to see results? “This is not a one-year proposition; it’s not a two-year proposition,” Obama said, signaling that the initiative will be a sustained effort that shouldn’t be expected to have measurable results in the short term.

7. What do people who work on this issue all the time think? Those already involved in this work say they’re pleased with the spotlight on the underlying issues, as much as they’re excited about whatever the concrete results may be. “The White House has a major voice, a bullhorn on this issue, and all of us who have been working on this issue will find a place to pivot around this so we can lift up the work together,” said American Values Institute’s Johnson.

“It is not lost on us that the president’s announcement comes weeks after the Department of Education and the Justice Department released guidance about racial disparities in school discipline,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis in a statement released today. “We are heartened by his willingness to address racial inequities not only through words but through tangible actions.”