President Barack Obama announced in March, 2014, that he was launching a program called "My Brother's Keeper," which is designed to address the many challenges that face young African-Americans and Latinos (young men of color). Obama insisted in presenting this program that it is not just another big government program using taxpayer money; rather, he pointed out that wealthy philanthropic sources and corporate business leaders will provide up to $200 million over the next five years to fund the activities of My Brother's Keeper. This paper will review the strategies that Obama's initiative will use, and will point to specific evidence within the literature as to why the president felt compelled to launch this program.
My Brother's Keeper -- the Program
Obama has been an activist president on several fronts, including his Affordable Healthcare legislation, his push for fair pay for women, his advocacy of a $10.10 minimum wage for workers, his advocacy for marriage equality, his push to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve without hiding their identities, his criticism of states that are attempting to suppress voting opportunities -- and his recent proposals for paycheck fairness. So it should come as no surprise that Obama would also look at the fact that minority students don't get the fair shake they deserve, and that leaders across the nation should be "…committed to creating more pathways to success for these boys and young men" (White House).
Recognizing that many people have been "…committed to this cause for years," he thanked those efforts while announcing that a "Federal Task Force" will provide, within 90 days, recommendations on how "public and private actors can improve measurable expected educational and life outcomes and address persistent opportunity gaps" (White House). The task force will pursue what the White House calls "collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches to building ladders of opportunity." What those specific approaches will be remains to be seen, but the chair of My Brother's Keeper, Broderick Johnson, a cabinet member, said that this effort potentially could "…teach us a great deal about using evidence-based strategies" in order to reach the goals that are best for America's young people (White House).
The president made clear that government cannot solve these issues and even play a role, but he added that the government can (and does, through Head Start) "…help give every child access to quality preschool" in order that learning can begin at an early age. He added a statement that rings true: "…nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son's life" (White House). In other words, families need to be accountable to their children.
"Parents will have to parent -- and turn off the television and help with homework," Obama emphasized. He added these points: Teachers need to make sure kids do not fall so far behind they begin to feel lost and insignificant and feel like society has given up on them; business leader need to "create more mentorships and apprenticeships" to help kids get a grip on a good career; tech leaders need to "open young eyes" to computer science and engineering; and "faith leaders" need to help instill values and a "ethical framework" in young men to hopefully they can enjoy a "good and productive life" (White House).
The task force created by Obama is committed to provide ideas to help young men of color in five key points in time that impact this segment of the population: a) "early learning and literacy"; b) pathways to higher education and to good careers; c) "ladders to jobs"; d) support networks including mentors; and e) "interactions with criminal justice and violent crime" (White House).
Reasons behind My Brother's Keeper
On the subject of the criminal justice system, an article in Huffington Post reports that the shocking statistic that "…one in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life" (Knafo, 2013). As for Latino males, one in every six will be imprisoned for some reason and one in every 17 white males will be incarcerated, Knafo explains. Where did Knafo get these data? The United Nations Human Rights Commission released these statistics as part of the UN's review of American compliance with the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," a treaty that the United States ratified in 1992.
The Covenant requires that "all citizens must be treated equally under the law," and the fact that one in three black males will serve time -- and are "more likely to spend time behind bars than their white counterparts" -- leads to the conclusion that there is indeed racial injustice (Knafo, p. 1). Why has it come to this in America? The report says that police are arresting black youth for drug offenses "at more than twice the rate of white youth" notwithstanding a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that "white high school students were slightly more likely to have abused illegal drugs & #8230;than black students of the same age" (Knafo, p. 1).
Two other reasons the UN report offers for the unfairness visited upon many boys and young men of color include: a) because there is an "implicit racial bias" on the part of police (blacks are "far more likely than whites" to be pulled over by police while driving); and b) because blacks and Latinos are generally less affluent than whites, they are generally given "court-appointed public defenders" -- and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the public defender systems are in "a state of crisis" due to underfunding (Knafo, p. 1).
In other words, public defender offices are short of staff and hence they are not able to properly serve all the accused young people that require their legal support. That can lead to longer incarceration and in many cases that leads to young men of color going to prison when a good attorney could have kept them out of prison and perhaps provided probation, restitution through community service -- or a form of restorative justice for them.
Education Reforms are needed
Not all problems that are experienced by young men of color can be blamed on law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Journalist Rebecca Klein writes that while it is known that low-income students of color have as a rule "less experienced teachers," there is a deeper problem that needs addressing (Klein, 2014). Referencing a recent report by the Center for American Progress, Klein points out that low-income students of color also tend to have teachers that are "less effective" in addition to lacking experience.
Teachers in several states have been "incentivized to adopt new teacher evaluation systems," Klein explains. The incentive is a program called "Race To The Top" and while most states do not release the evaluation reports on their teachers' effectiveness, Louisiana and Massachusetts do release those reports. In Louisiana teachers are rated on "ineffective," "effective-emerging," "effective-proficient," or "highly effective" (Klein, p. 2).
The Louisiana report found that a student in a high-poverty school "…is almost three times as likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective as a student" in a low-poverty school (Klein, p. 2). Moreover, the report found that in schools that have "high concentrations of minorities are more than twice as likely to have an ineffective teacher" than schools with a small enrollment of minorities (Klein, p. 2).
In Massachusetts the ratings of teachers include "unsatisfactory," "needs improvement," "proficient," or "exemplary," Klein continues. And albeit Massachusetts has fewer teachers whose rating are poor than Louisiana does, in Massachusetts students in high-poverty schools are "three times as likely to be taught by a teacher rated "unsatisfactory" than students in low-poverty schools (Klein, p. 2).
The controversial law, No Child Left Behind, required that states come up with formulas that would assure "…the equitable distribution of teachers"; however, it was easy for a state to get a "waiver" and basically ignore that regulation. Hence, teacher quality is not distributed equally in most cases and the Center for American Progress reports that poor students and students of color are far less likely to get "well-qualified or high-value teachers" than schools with mostly white students (Klein, p. 3).
Responses to My Brother's Keeper
An article in The Daily Tar Heel (University of North Carolina) quotes Johnny C. Taylor, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, saying that the program launched by President Obama will, "at a minimum," produce a "national dialogue about the challenges facing boys of color" (Carbonell, 2014). That said, Taylor, whose organization advocates for historically black colleges and universities, added that "this is a huge issue, one that will not be resolved at all in the next five years" (Carbonell, p. 1). Ardell Sanders, interim director of North Carolina University's Centennial Scholars program, said many young men of color come to college "with this idea that they had to live up to the hip-hop culture" (Carbonell, p. 1). Sanders said young…