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My Brother’s Keeper: A Community Approach to Improving the Quality of Life

January 22, 2015

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced his plan to make it a year of action focused on expanding opportunities for all Americans.  This administration is committed to the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have a fair shot to get ahead.  On February 27th, 2014, President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a community-based approach to helping young men of color succeed.  

By Robert Klein, SAS ’16

Youth of color are statistically likelier to face economic and criminal justice challenges than their white peers. Though only 6% of the population, black males accounted for 43% of murder victims in 2011.  In 2012, black males were 6 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males. Black and Latino unemployment is consistently higher than that of the general population. The statistics speak for themselves: opportunity is lagging behind for youth of color.

That is why My Brother’s Keeper is specifically targeted to this demographic. As President Obama has said, “we are stronger when America fields a full team.” Improving life prospects and outcomes for young people, including young men of color, is the right thing to do not just for those individuals, but for all Americans. Our communities as a whole will be made stronger by addressing the economic, educational, and criminal justice issues faced disproportionately by communities of color.

The targeted nature of the initiative raises a important question about the program: how will My Brother’s Keeper impact different demographics? 

First, it builds upon existing programs that are targeted towards all Americans. The Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” initiative, for example, has improved graduation rates in underperforming schools across the country. Communities of color face education issues that are specific to their children. Black children are four times as likely as their White peers to be suspended from school. My Brother’s Keeper will supplement “Race to the Top” by addressing this statistical disparity through engagement of parents, students, and teachers in communities of color.

Second, the initiative will foster an economy with a skilled and productive workforce. For America to remain competitive in the 21st century, it is essential that all of our youth, including young boys and men of color, have meaningful career opportunities. Black and Latino youth are statistically more likely to live in communities with higher rates of crime, increasing negative interactions with law enforcement. Furthermore, youth of color often receive harsher penalties for committing the same crime. A criminal record can preclude a young man from achieving his career goals. That is why we must extend a hand to youth of color in order to create an economy built to last.

Federal agencies such as HUD, DOJ, and ED will collaborate on this initiative. HUD, for example, can work to improve services in public housing. DOJ will examine how the criminal justice system impacts communities of color and what can be done to avoid negative interactions with law enforcement. And ED will connect youth of color with high quality schools that can instill the skills needed for a successful career in the 21st century.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (left) and Robert Klein (right) during Robert's summer internship with the U.S. Department of Justice.U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (left) and Robert Klein (right) during Robert's summer internship with the U.S. Department of Justice.    

President John F. Kennedy is known for his adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The wisdom of these words holds true today. My Brother’s Keeper will address the opportunity gap for youth of color and, thereby, expand opportunity for all Americans. 

To learn more, please visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper

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  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

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