By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A controversy last week over potential funding linked to President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative underscored concerns that groups led by people of color have expressed over access to public and private sector resources.
At the heart of the confusion was a request for proposal (RFP) issued through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for a youth mentoring program grant. In March, the grant required groups that wanted to apply be active in 30 states. By April, that requirement had been revised upward to 45 states, placing the grant far beyond the reach of most minority-led groups that mentor underserved minority youth in the United States.
A paragraph in the RFP connecting the grant to the president’s My Brother’s Keeper program seemed to complicate the matter.
In a letter dated April 28, addressed to Robert Listenbee, the administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Michael Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., said that the rule change, “not only effectively eliminated our organization from meeting the eligibility requirements for funding, but also dashed any hopes that such venerable institutions as the National Urban League, the NAACP and each of nine Historically Black Greek Organizations may have had for competing in this significant funding opportunity.”
In a separate letter, Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, wrote that his group was “surprised,” “greatly disappointed and deeply concerned” about the rule change.
“The Department’s stated commitment to ‘include mentoring opportunities for young men and boys of color in order to build resilience, encourage empowerment, and facilitate community engagement and participation’ is directly undermined by the reframing of the national program that by definition, removes organizations such as the National Urban League from even competing for funds,” wrote Morial.
Both letters were later posted on Politics365.com.
By May 1, however, 100 Black Men of America seemed to step back from their criticism of OJJDP, offering a brief statement through their Twitter account that said that they met with the Department of Justice and found that their concern “was not related to My Brother’s Keeper which is still moving forward.”
Last week, all media inquiries for 100 Black Men of America were referred to Greg Heydel, vice president and group director of reputation management at Matlock Advertising and Public Relations in Atlanta, Ga., who e-mailed the 100 Black Men of America’s May 1 statement to reporters.
The OJJDP removed the language about My Brother’s Keeper from the grant application.
Broderick Johnson, White House cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, said, “The Department of Justice readily admitted that it led to a misunderstanding that’s been corrected and we made it clear to other agencies that they shouldn’t put things out like that with regards to their solicitations.”
George Garrow, executive director of Concerned Black Men, a national organization that works to enrich the lives of young Black males, said that the mistake was unfortunate for the president’s fledgling project.
“They are people that are out there that don’t want to see this [My Brother Keeper’s program] happen at all and will take those types of things and use that against all of us. That little dust up that happened on Politics365.com, that could have been cleared up with a phone call,” said Garrow. “The next thing you know, it’s a bunch of mess.”
The task force’s report, that will be released in less than a month, will offer a review of best practices and evidenced-based strategies focused on early learning and literacy, pathways to college and careers, ladders to jobs, mentors and support networks, and interactions with criminal justice and violent crime.
The crisis facing boys and young men of color as they transition to adulthood has been chronicled for decades.
Black males are more at risk to be suspended than their White peers, suffer a disproportionate number of expulsions and more than 40 percent of referrals to law enforcement while in school.
A 2012 study titled “The Urgency of Now” by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, reported that barely half (52 percent) of Black males graduate from high school in four years, compared to 78 percent of White males.
Research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., found that 9 percent of male high school dropouts, ages 16–24, are incarcerated or in detention. For young Black male dropouts of the same age, that number is 23 percent.
And when one high school dropout can cost the nation more than a quarter of a million dollars, over their lifetime in lost earnings, taxes and productivity, allowing Black males to dropout in droves threatens the country’s economic security.
“If you say that you want to increase the high school graduation rate, you can do some generic things with generic young people, but if you’re really going to impact the high school graduation rate, you need to develop strategies that are specifically focused on Black boys, because Black boys account for a disproportionate number of students graduating at low rates,” Garrow said.
He said that he’s hopeful that this effort, with the president putting his weight behind it.
“To really have a lasting impact on Black kids you have to get those multi-year funding bequests to sustain a program over a lengthy period of time. That’s when you see positive outcomes for our kids, when you’re able to stay the course,” he explained.
Garrow also expressed concerns that some groups, that have worked for years to help young Black men, don’t have the infrastructure to independently evaluate their programs and present concrete data that their programs work. The very type of evidence-based strategies that President Obama called for in his speech on the My Brother’s Keeper program in February.
“If you’re going to foundations and seeking federal funding you have to have those evaluation pieces in place, because you’re going to have to show people that you’re having a measurable impact and seeing positive outcomes in the population that you’re serving,” said Garrow.
Johnson said that it’s critical to work with people who are on the ground and in the neighborhoods doing the hard work and that the My Brother’s Keeper program isn’t viewed as something crafted by people who run national organizations that are based in a handful of cities.
“This is a long-term project and it’s important that people understand that the president didn’t get into this for a 90-day report or a 90-day project or short-term grants for FY2014, or ’15,” said Johnson. “Throughout his administration and beyond, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ will exist to make a difference for a long time.”