Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Program Critical to His Legacy

by Reggie Fullwood

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,” said Ralph Ellison. Many of our young black men are invisible to those who have the resources to help them. And I am certainly not talking about helping with your pocket book, but helping with your time and guidance.

Some say that President Obama will be remembered as one of the greatest U.S. leaders. While he may not be added to Mt. Rushmore, and many Republicans may never concede his greatness,  he has done an exceptionally good job – especially considering what he inherited.

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.”   – Booker T. Washington.

Perhaps one of Obama’s most underrated policy initiative is this “My Brother’s Keeper” program. It’s no secret that young African American males are the highest at-risk group for everything from criminal behavior, to dropping out of school, to being jobless.

Last week, he told a group of high school students, “So that’s why I started something called My Brother’s Keeper initiative, because what we want to do is help more young people, especially kids of color, get mentorships and the resources and the guidance they need to succeed.”

What was even more interesting was his next statement during the speech. He said, “And I’m going to stay involved with that even after I’m done being President. Because we all have a part to play in making sure every single child has every single opportunity to achieve his or her dreams.”

And that’s what is so profound about My Brother’s Keeper – Obama looks at it not only as a legacy component of his presidency, but his life. He wants to continue helping young minority students long after his days in the White House.

We know that at the heart of the challenges facing the black community is the dysfunction and crisis among young African American males. Black men are not stepping up as fathers, falling behind in education and still going to jail at alarming rates.

How do we stop the bleeding?

It has to start early and it has to be an intensive effort. What I mean by intensive is that we have to be able to provide one-on-one continuous focus on these youth. And that type of attention comes from strong mentoring programs.

So that’s where Obama’s initiative comes in to play. It promotes and facilitates programs already doing good work, provides technical assistance, while raising their profile and their fundraising capabilities. So it costs the government very little money, but the goal is to build on the strong programs that are already helping minority youth.

Very few people would debate the fact that strong father figures make a difference in the lives of their children.Good mentors help children stay focused, provide positive reinforcement and guidance, and most importantly good mentors help mentees understand that they can do anything – the future is limitless.

And there is a connection between mentoring, education and even jobs. Through mentoring, youth will do much better in school and stay on a positive path that can easily lead to creating a strong well-prepared workforce.

Investing in mentorship programs is a great strategy for long-term workforce development. Investing more in young black males could systematically change the African American community. It is as simple as good jobs and opportunities create stable households and strong families.

When speaking about the Great Depression, Langston Hughes said, “The depression brought everybody down a peg or two. And the Negro had but few pegs to fall.”

That is still true to this day, and that is why it is so important that the 100 Blackmen, My Brother’s Keeper, and other programs be successful. The stakes are high.

Of course there is no one solution, but it is my belief that if black professionals give back to the community through mentoring we can save one child at a time.

Some may say that mentoring is only making a marginal difference, but I say if we can save a few young men it is well worth the effort.

“I don’t care what my children choose to do professionally, just as long as within their choices they understand they’ve got to give something back,” said Marian Wright Edelman.

Signing off from the monthly Jacksonville 100 Blackmen meeting,

Reggie Fullwood

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