President Obama has taken a lot of flak for his race-neutral policies (including from me), but he deserves praise for following up on his pledge made just over a month ago during the State of the Union. Today, President Obama announced My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative aimed to make sure that young men of color are given a more equitable shot at success. It’s a moment that I’ve been waiting for for years. Since Philadelphia.
Finally, it seemed that Obama connected history, race, ethnicity, personal responsibility to make the argument why all Americans should be outraged about the vast inequalities that black and brown youth face in education, mobility and employment. But it’s worth noting how the president approached today’s announcement. Not as the president of a black America, or minority America, but as a president of a diverse America that is suffering, whose diverse populations, with their “unique” histories, require “unique solutions:”
“…the plain fact is that there are some Americans who in the aggregate are consistently doing worse in our society, groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions, groups who've seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations and by almost every measure the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country are boys and young men of color."
My Brother’s Keeper sidesteps Congress and creates a taskforce that will evaluate public and private programs that are working to help these distressed groups. On top of that, Obama secured a guarantee of almost $200 million from businesses and foundations over the next five years to help find solutions.
In the past, as president, Obama’s occasionally made the case of why individual issues of racial justice were problematic but didn't always connect these individual incidents to the plight of black and brown communities at large. Today, it was crystal clear:
“50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America's children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure…
“The worst part is we've become numb to these statistics. We’re not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is."
My Brother’s Keeper is a concrete step that could make meaningful change in the lives of two groups that need it most. The promise of direct engagement by the president on these issues is a refreshing departure from his embrace of mainly color-blind policies up to now. It’s a great start.