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President Obama Commits to Lifelong Effort to Support Boys of Color

President Obama helped to launch on Monday the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, a non-profit group that will focus on closing opportunity gaps for boys and males of color.

The My Brother's Keeper Alliance is a spin-off of  the president's My Brother's Keeper initiative, which was created last year to expand educational and career opportunities for minority boys.

While the two programs are separate, the My Brother's Keeper Alliance will advance the president's initiative in the private sector, according to the organization.

President Obama said on Monday that he would continue with the My Brother's Keeper work during his tenure in the White House and beyond his presidency.

"This will remain a mission for me, and for Michelle, not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life," the president said at Lehman College in the Bronx, N.Y., where he made the announcement about the new group and spoke candidly about the challenges and lack of opportunities that minority males face.

The My Brother's Keeper Alliance said in a press release on Monday that in its first three years it plans to improve the lives of 275,000 boys and young men of color and directly impact more than 5 million boys and young men of color in the longer term.

The initiative aims to double the percentage of boys of color who read at grade level by 3rd grade; increase high school graduation by 20 percent; and increase by more than 50,000 the number of those graduates who go on to post-secondary or training programs, the president said in his speech.

According to the group's website, it will focus on six key areas:

  • Entering school ready to learn (early childhood)
  • Reading at grade level by 3rd grade (middle childhood)
  • Graduating from high school ready for college and career (adolescence)
  • Completing post-secondary education or training (adulthood transition)
  • Successfully entering the workforce (adulthood)
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance (throughout life)

The nascent effort has already garnered more than $85 million in commitments to date, the group said in the press release Monday.

The CEO and chairman of the MBK Alliance is Joe Echevarria, a former chief executive officer of Deloitte LLP, who stepped down from the company last year to pursue public service work.

The leadership team consists of individuals from business, government, education, entertainment, and sports. They include Alonzo Mourning, a former basketball player with the Miami Heat; Debra Lee, chairwoman and CEO of the BET Networks; singer John Legend; Marcelo Claure, the CEO of Sprint; and Jim Shelton, a former deputy secretary of education.

The advisory group also includes elected representatives, clergy, athletes, civil rights workers, and others. Among them:  former secretary of state Colin Powell; former attorney general Eric Holder; Sen. Corey Booker, (D-NJ); mayors Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, and Greg Ballard of Indianapolis; Shaun Harper, executive director for the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania; and Brandon Yellowbird-Stevens, a councilman of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin.

In his speech, President Obama spoke about launching the My Brother's Keeper initiative after the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot to death in Florida in 2012, to send the message that "his life mattered, that the lives of the young men who are here today matter, that we care about your future—not just sometimes, but all the time."

And coming on the heels of recent protests in major cities following the deaths of unarmed black men, President Obama said it was unfair to ask police to "contain and control problems" that society itself had failed to address.

In his first term, President Obama was chided by many outspoken African Americans for not speaking forcefully enough about race and the challenges that black families, in particular, faced. He has done so more often in his second term.

President Obama said the business leaders who were committing to the new initiative were doing so not because of charity or to assuage society's guilt, but because they recognized the economic imperative to do so.

"These young men, all our youth, are part of our workforce," the president said.  "If we don't make sure that our young people are safe and healthy and educated, and prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, our businesses won't have the workers they need to compete in the 21st century global economy.  Our society will lose in terms of productivity and potential.  America won't be operating at full capacity.  And that hurts all of us."

The president also made a moral argument for the need to help minority boys, saying that the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality for all cannot merely be just words on paper but must mean something tangible in the lives of all children.

"There are consequences to inaction," he said.  "There are consequences to indifference, and they reverberate far beyond the walls of the projects, or the borders of the barrio, or the roads of the reservation. They sap us of our strength as a nation. It means we're not as good as we could be.  And over time, it wears us out.  Over time, it weakens our nation as a whole."

He pledged to continue working on those issues affecting disadvantaged communities, and to those children he met before taking the stage and others who were listening, he had the message:  "You matter."

"You matter to us," he said.  "You matter to each other. There's nothing, not a single thing, that's more important to the future of America than whether or not you and young people all across this country can achieve their dreams."

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