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. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The official launch of My Brother’s Keeper—the initiative President Barack Obama previewed in his State of the Union address, telling Americans, “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential”—kicked off with a ceremony in the White House East Room on Thursday.

Since the president first introduced the initiative, the White House has offered additional details, describing My Brother’s Keeper as “action in partnership with foundations, businesses and others to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential.”

The question now is simple: How?

Partnerships and opportunities to get ahead for those young men who are currently behind sound promising, but they’re a tall order. It’s important now to understand the president’s plan for making the initiative work and to figure out who will benefit.

Here are some answers to questions about Obama’s plans for his “brothers.”

1. Does “of color” mean “black”? “The president announced that he was addressing issues facing ‘young men of color,’ but the press has been saying ‘black men,’’ notes Alexis McGill Johnson, whose American Values Institute, a grantee of My Brother’s Keeper foundation partner the Open Society institute, has worked on a campaign for black male achievement.

But it appears that “of color” doesn’t mean “black” to the White House; nor does it mean “all colors.” The materials associated with the event, along with senior administration officials who briefed reporters, described the focus of the initiative as “black and Hispanic young men.”

In today’s remarks, Obama used the phrases “black or brown” and “black and Latino.”

2. What inspired this? And why now? As Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett put it, “The bottom line is that there is an empirical reason to make sure we’re focusing on young men and boys of color.” She pointed to congressional data showing that black and Hispanic boys, regardless of socioeconomic background, suffer disparities in reading proficiency, school discipline, unemployment and involvement in the criminal-justice system.

“By almost every measure,” Obama said Thursday, “the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century are boys and young men of color.”