**FILE** President Obama announces his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen)
President Obama announcing his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen)
President Obama announcing his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen)

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In an effort to spark innovation at the local level to improve life outcomes for young men and boys of color, White House officials recently announced the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Community Challenge, but mentoring groups that have been active in the Black community for decades continue to express concerns over access to public and private money through MBK.

The community challenge is not a new federal program, but is crafted to complement MBK efforts in cities, counties, suburbs, rural municipalities, and tribal nations, according to White House officials.

More than 145 mayors, county executives and tribal leaders have already accepted the president’s challenge.

Anthony Foxx, the current Secretary of the Department of Transportation and former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., said that a lot of progress can be made at the local level, on the streets, in schools and in the community centers because that’s where the challenges exist.

Citing recent studies, Foxx said that by the age of three, children from low-income households have heard about 30 million fewer words than their higher-income household peers and about two-thirds of Black children live with only one parent.

“We know a father’s absence increases the risk of their child dropping out of school,” said Foxx. “Black children raised by single moms are 75 percent more likely to drop out of school than children with two parents.”

During the summer months of 2013, just 17 percent of Black teenage boys were employed compared to 34 percent of White teenage boys, said Foxx.

“Rather than start a big new federal program or turn our backs on data we cant afford to ignore, we are engaging this country’s local governments and leaders to help them build momentum build coalitions and use the best data available to identify strategies that work,” said Foxx. “These are communities focused on efforts like closing the achievement gaps, improving quality and access to early education and addressing youth violence.”

Julián Castro, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, said that community leaders will convene local action summits in 45 days after accepting the challenge and within six months publicly launch a plan of action for accomplishing those goals including procedures for tracking data, benchmarking progress, and a blueprint for how communities will use its resources.

George Garrow, the executive director of Concerned Black Men National (CBM), a group founded in 1975 that provides Black male role models, mentorship programs and academic enrichment for young people of color, said that CBM wants to be a catalyst, encouraging city leaders to come together to develop coordinated, collaborative action plans around developing these positive outcomes for Black men and boys.

“What the White House is acknowledging here is that the work has to take place on the ground in these communities and the cities have to play a role. We have to ensure that the leaders in those cities are invested in ensuring that we turn things around and the community challenge is a good first step,” said Garrow. “There’s a lot more that has got to happen, but that’s a good first step.”

Castro said that the community challenge isn’t a program that is designed in Washington for local communities.

“The My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge is really about highlighting effective strategies and it’s about offering an organizing principal and adding momentum to some of the tremendous work that is already being done from coast to coast,” said Castro.

Castro added: “It’s truly an exciting time.”

For groups that think it’s time for the federal government and private foundations to invest in community groups that have been engaged in a decades-long struggle to improve the lives of young Black boys and men, the path ahead still remains uncertain.

Jim Shelton, the executive director of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, said that on the federal side, there are not any new programmatic funds set up for My Brother’s Keeper, but there are a range of programs that are directly focused on goals that White House staffers have laid out across multiple agencies. On the private side, Shelton added that the foundations that came together to provide $194 million in resources will ultimately be responsible for deciding who gets those funds and who doesn’t.

“We’re anxious to see what these foundations are going to do, because that’s where the initial dollars are coming from,” said Garrow.

Phillip Jackson, the founder and executive director of The Black Star Project, an educational, advocacy and mentoring group based in Chicago, Ill., said that it’s almost like a lot of the My Brother’s Keeper program is being run by press release.

“There’s a lot of hoopla, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of things actually getting done, I don’t see it,” said Jackson.

Jackson said that Chicago is ground zero for many of the issues affecting Black boys in America, including youth violence, lack of access to high quality education and severe unemployment.

“This is where you should see the boots on the ground in this mission,” said Jackson. “But I’m in Chicago and outside of a few things like programs out of the University of Chicago and the [Becoming A Man] program I haven’t seen anything.”

President Barack Obama showered praise on Chicago’s Becoming A Man (BAM) initiative during the launch of the My Brother’s Keeper campaign, highlighting the fledgling program as a national model for it’s evidence-based approached to mentoring young men of color.

Youth Guidance, a group that has provided tutoring life skills training and health services in Chicago for more than 80 years and World Sports Chicago fueled BAM’s rise to the national stage. World Sports Chicago (WSC) formerly pushed to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to the Windy City, but has also worked with Youth Guidance to teach young people self-discipline and other “soft skills” through sports.

Youth Guidance, WSC and the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago raised $1 million to launch “BAM – Sports Edition,” during the 2009-2010 school year.

Despite recent accolades and White House praise, Jackson argued that BAM is not even close to being the best mentoring program in Chicago and nationally-recognized organizations don’t fare much better.

“The best mentoring group is not Big Brothers, Big Sisters, it’s not the Boys and Girls Club, it’s not the churches, it’s not 100 Black Men of Chicago,” offered Jackson. “The best mentoring organizations in Chicago are street gangs.”

Jackson continued: “Street gangs are more committed than churches, street gangs are more committed than our communities and the government to our children. You may not like what they do with our children when they get them, but they know how to come and get them. And that’s what we’ve got to learn, how to go get these children, how to get their hearts and their minds and their spirits.”

And, if you noticed, added Jackson, they don’t bring in people from the suburbs to help mentor, either.

“I’m not saying some of mentors can’t be of other races,” explained Jackson. “What I am saying is that if we are going to successfully transmit what is needed to improve the lives of young Black boys, [the mentoring] is going to come from strong, positive, productive Black men.”

Garrow said that he hopes that MBK and the MBK Community Challenge will provide access to “large-scale dollars” to groups like CBM that have demonstrated that they have had an impact with their programs when they have had a limited budget.

“If you look at who’s making a difference in these communities and listen to what the community says and provide funds to groups based on who can transform communities by transforming the lives of these young boys, if they do that, we feel like we’re going to be considered,” said Garrow. “Imagine what we could do with more money.”

According to a press release issued in July, “the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Urban Education Lab will receive $10 million in new funding to support the expansion of Youth Guidance’s Becoming A Man (BAM) program” in Chicago as well as other cities.

The press release said that the “funding was made possible through new commitments in support of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative” and that “CPS will receive $4 Million in federal Title 1 funding, made possible by the recently approved No Child Left Behind waiver to the State of Illinois. Additionally, a $6 Million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, will support BAM, Match, and the University of Chicago’s large-scale study of the programs.”

Jackson called it marketplace economics and said that the boost that groups like BAM get in the Black male mentoring arena will eventually push those small Black mentoring groups out.

“This is an organization in Chicago that wasn’t even here [five years] ago and all of a sudden they get $10 million dollars,” said Jackson. “Now organizations that have been around 25 or 30 years have to go out of business because they can’t compete.”

Jackson continued: “Organizations like BAM are advantaged to a point where they are going to drive effective, serious and concerned organizations out of business. It’s the marketplace. The money is dictating who is going to be in the game.”


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