‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative is destroying the Black male mentoring movement

By Phillip Jackson | Last updated: Aug 7, 2014 - 1:35:07 PM

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Young men listen intently as President Barack Obama speaks about the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, July 21. President Obama announced that leaders of 60 of the largest school systems have pledged to expand minority boys’ access to better preschools and advanced classes and to try to prevent grade retention, suspensions and expulsions. Photo: AP/ World Wide Photos
The White House’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is destroying the Black Male Mentoring Movements in America’s-decades-long work to save Black boys. Virtually all of the small, community-based agencies that comprise this substantial, historic effort to mentor Black boys have been left out of the overall conversation, the planning, and the funding essential to save Black boys and to chart a new course for their continued survival. Many of these groups provided mentoring for Black boys long before President Barack Obama became president and they will be working to save Black boys when he leaves the office.

Phillip Jackson
The White House made a strange decision to allow The University of Chicago to be its lead academic partner in the mentoring of Black boys although no visible plan exists to increase that school’s dastardly low Black male student population, which has hovered at about 2 percent for the past fifteen years. The Black males on campus at the University of Chicago have to deal with severe racial profiling from their own campus police, and one Black male student was even put in a chokehold and “arrested for not properly using the library.” Funding the elite, well-healed University of Chicago as the leadership organization for Black male mentoring while ignoring grassroots organizations that have facilitated Black male mentoring programs for decades guarantees that his initiative will fail!

I support President Obama on many things, but I cannot support the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative as operated in its first year. In fact, this initiative has given America the excuse to say, “We gave Black men ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ what else could Black men possibly want?” Most insidious is the fact that corporations and foundations that once funded smaller entities that mentored Black boys, now direct those dollars to “My Brother’s Keeper,” essentially putting these effective, mostly Black agencies out of business.

Equally appalling is this initiative’s lack of grassroots leadership and the underrepresentation of Black organizations and agencies in “My Brother’s Keeper.” The failure to include these important stakeholders severely undermines the integrity of the initiative. Who are these people rushing to save young Black men and where were they when there was no money to do this important work? To those of us working long before “My Brother’s Keeper,” the motive remains to save the lives of our children and rebuild our communities—not money or contracts. Now Black-led organizations are being systematically locked out of the process of mentoring Black boys by The White House!

Fact sheets, press releases, and photo-ops will not transform the state of Black men in America. Yet these seem to be the initiative’s most-used tools. A recent study, also out of the University of Chicago claimed there has been little-to-no progress for Black men in America over the past 45 years. The National Assessment of Educational Progress recently reported that only 10 percent of 8th grade Black boys in America read at or above a proficient level while the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University reported unemployment rates for various age groups of young, Black men and teens are two, three and four times that of non-Black age-related groups.

The murder statistics for young, Black men, and for Black and Latino children in Chicago, are astounding and some of the highest statistics for any population in the world. President Obama does not have to go far to see and understand the magnitude of challenges, on all levels, faced by Black men and boys. He can simply walk down the block on which he lives in Chicago to see the problem—and the solution. The question is, will he!

Where are the “Brothers” in the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative? “My Brother’s Keeper” can be a good thing for young Black men in America—just not in its current, shallow iteration. Experienced stakeholders and grassroots leaders need to be a part of this initiative for it to succeed. And this initiative must succeed! It is hypocritical for America to continue to fail/destroy Black men and boys and still consider itself to be one of the greatest, most humanitarian countries in the world.

(Phillip Jackson is founder and executive director of The Black Star Project, an educational, advocacy and mentoring organization based in Chicago and organizer of the Million Father March. Visit for more information.)