Last Thursday, President Obama and other leaders from the business and civil society announced My Brother’s Keeper, a new initiative that will take a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color. Living Cities is a member of the Executive Allianceof philanthropic leaders that is supporting this, and here’s why:
Fierce Urgency of Now. Martin Luther King used these words 50 years ago but they have never been more appropriate, \“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.\” In fact, America is at a crossroads. In less than 20 years, we will be a nation whose population will be majority people of color. If we continue to educate, employ and build wealth for boys and young men of color, for example, at the same rate we’ve been doing for the last 40 years, we will have a majority population that is very different than the one we have now. It will be less educated (whites have 40-50% more post-high school degrees than Blacks and Latinos), less wealthy ( the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of African-American households and 18 times that of Hispanic househo lds.) and even less free (the African-American prison population is the highest of any demographic – 38 percent of state and federal inmates or more than 3 times the total number of people incarcerated in 1963 – despite the fact that African-Americans only make up 14 percent of the US population).These statistics are not worthy of the leader of the free world; and this is not the country we want. Without an urgency of now to tackle the broken systems that almost everyone agrees are not achieving the results we want, we won’t see progress in 20 years at the rates required to secure the future.
Perfect Messenger. Whatever you think of the President’s performance or politics, he is the perfect messenger for this work. He speaks eloquently and authentically of his experiences growing up as a young person of color in this country and the day to day challenges he faced in doing so at home, in the classroom, even on the street:
“I didn’t have a dad in the house…and I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”
When done right, the White House bully pulpit is incredibly effective in raising awareness and moving a national consciousness. Think about the nation’s embrace of getting a man to the moon in a decade in the 1960s or cutting obesity by 40% as the First Lady has been so effective at doing. Marrying this unique messenger with this important message is exactly what is needed to mobilize our nation with urgency.
Shrink to Fit. Because the challenge of unlocking opportunity for young boys and men of color is so great, it is not very hard for any civil society organizations, public or private, to contribute –to shrink the problem to fit their capabilities. This means taking on a piece of the problem while holding the broader vision for change. For example, Living Cities expects to bring what we have learned over the past six years, through Strive Together and The Integration Initiative, about how cross-sectoral leaders can come together in new ways to move the needle on issues such as education (Cincinnati), jobs (Baltimore), and equitable transit-oriented development (Twin Cites). We also are also looking inward, asking ourselves as an organization that is focused on fighting inequality and creating lasting systems change to improve the lives of low-income people, what should a focus on urgently changing the trajectory of boys and men of color mean to the way we function and the work we do? We are exploring how to embed a racial equity and inclusion lens across our entire portfolio in intentional and meaningful ways.
The goal is clear, but not the path. We all not only have a role in charting the course but a huge stake in its success.