AFRICANGLOBE – For much of Barack Obama’s presidency, he has sought to avoid being defined by his race or gender, often emphasizing that he is the leader of all Americans. On Thursday, Mr. Obama will use the power of his office to focus on helping young Black men succeed.
Stymied by Congress on many of the economic policies he considers central to the lives of Blacks, Mr. Obama is seeking to prod nonprofit foundations, business groups and civic leaders to provide more opportunities for a struggling part of the American family.
His new “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is aimed at finding ways in which business and civic leaders can intervene at just the right moment to keep young Black men on a successful course.
The announcement is not likely to satisfy Mr. Obama’s most vocal critics in the Black population, who have accused him of forgetting the people he came from. Tavis Smiley, a Black talk-show host, said last year that the progress of Blacks had languished during Mr. Obama’s presidency.
“The data is going to indicate sadly that when the Obama administration is over, Black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category,” Mr. Smiley said in October. “On that regard, the president ought to be held responsible.”
Obama aides reject such criticism. But they said Thursday’s announcement was recognition that more needed to be done, and they said the president would take action with — or without — the help of Republican lawmakers in Congress.
“This new initiative is another way the president will use his pen and his phone, involving both the private and public sectors, to expand opportunity for Americans,” officials said in a document previewing the president’s announcement.
The centerpiece of the effort will be a presidential task force led by Broderick Johnson, the secretary of Mr. Obama’s cabinet, that will recommend programs that should be expanded or created to help young Black men meet their potential.
“There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement,” Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union address last month. He asked, “And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”
Mr. Obama hopes that the answer is yes, and the goal of the initiative is to persuade others to join in.
In a show of support, leaders from more than a dozen nonprofit groups will join the president in the East Room on Thursday afternoon as the initiative is announced. Among them will be representatives of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Together, White House officials said, the foundations are pledging $200 million over the next five years in a search for solutions to the most intractable economic and social problems that confront young Black men. The issues include early-childhood development, educational opportunities, school readiness and discipline, parenting, and the criminal justice system.
White House officials said the president wanted to focus on programs that had already demonstrated success. One of the initiatives that Mr. Obama will highlight on Thursday is Becoming a Man, a Chicago group-counseling program that has focused on helping teenagers in high-crime neighborhoods avoid resorting to violent behavior. A randomized controlled study published last May showed that among low-income students who participated in the program — most of them Black — arrests for violent crimes fell by 44 percent and prospective graduation rates increased by as much as 22 percent.
Also joining the president on Thursday will be business leaders, including Magic Johnson from Magic Johnson Enterprises, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment. Gen. Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York will also be there, officials said.
“The effort launched today is focused on unlocking the full potential of boys and young men of color — something that will not only benefit them, but all Americans,” the White House said.
What is unclear is how directly, and quickly, the president’s effort can help the lives of young Black men who are struggling in an economy that has not been kind to Blacks as a whole.
White House officials noted large disparities in reading proficiency, “with 86 percent of Black boys reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade — compared to 58 percent of White boys reading below proficiency levels.” A disproportionate number of young Black men are unemployed or have had dealings with the criminal justice system, they added.
The president’s initiative is not seeking a large new pot of government money, and officials are unapologetic about the desire to tap the private sector for help.
“We need to partner with communities and police to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer,” White House officials said. “And we need to help these young men stay in school and find a good job — so they have the opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities and build decent lives for themselves and their families.”
By: Michael D. Shear