President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which has been attacked in many quarters as ignoring the troubles of Black and brown girls, got a boost this week when a group of prominent Black women sent a letter to the president to let him know they support his efforts to lift the positive outcomes for boys of color.
In a story on MSNBC, Trymaine Lee described the ongoing public relations war raging around My Brother’s Keeper, as prominent African-Americans debate whether the president should be in the business of focusing efforts to help Black boys, seemingly at the exclusion of Black girls.
A coalition of women calling itself the National Women Leadership Supporting My Brother’s Keeper includes three dozen prominent Black women from across the country, many of whom are religions leaders. The group includes Melanie Campbell, chief executive of The Black Women’s Roundtable; Shirley Franklin, the former mayor of Atlanta; Chanelle Hardy, executive director of the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau; and the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the letter, they said they support MBK as a means to fight the “very bleak statistics” facing African-American and Hispanic boys.
“The dire statistics pertaining to boys and young men of color suggests the need for a more targeted approach,” reads the letter. “We believe that a successful ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative can result in stronger families, stronger fathers, stronger employees, stronger leaders; and ultimately, a stronger America.”
This letter comes in response to a letter last month from a group of 200 Black men, who told the president the group of philanthropic organizations that have pledged $200 million to help at-risk boys had not fairly considered the plight of Black and brown girls. On top of that letter came one last week from a group of 1,000 women that Lee’s story said included Black academics and intellectuals such as author Alice Walker and lawyer Anita Hill.
“The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination,” that letter said.
White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett told MSNBC that the critics of MBK were operating on flawed logic.
“I think the flaw in the logic is not understanding that this is not either/or, this is both/and,” said Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, who recently co-hosted a White House summit on working families. “The president’s approach is to create a society where nobody gets left behind, and right now are young boys of color are falling farther and farther behind than everybody.”
“Many of our initiatives have been designed to make sure that that cohort doesn’t fall behind,” she said, referring to women of color. “So for them we’ll add encouraging girls of color to go into STEM fields. It’s a big priority of ours, and that means that that begins with science and math courses, so what can we do to provide mentors to those young girls so they go into those fields.”
Jarrett said the Obamas will keep working on behalf of Black boys after they leave the White House.
Jarrett’s argument is along the lines of a parent responding to critics wondering why he is spending more time working with his child who has the most severe needs, or a teacher expending more effort helping the struggling readers—putting in more time with the neediest doesn’t mean you’re ignoring everyone else.
MBK, which has been attacked and praised since the president first announced it in February, receives no funding from the federal government. The White House is currently directing the private and nonprofit sector in developing longterm programming that will improve outcomes for Black and brown boys.
“The plain fact is 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 opportunity that have spanned generations,” Obama said in announcing the initiative. “We’ve become numb to the 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.”
In an article on The Root, Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough urged the Black community to stop writing letters and starting putting in the work.
“My Brother’s Keeper will disappear as soon as President Obama leaves office. So in three years we will be back in the same place, maybe with a little money spent for some programs, but with no agenda,” Kimbrough said.
“Let’s not write any more open letters, op-eds or tweets. Instead, write grants for studies on Black girls and women, or to support existing programs like Black Girls Rock or Black Girls Code,” he said. “Write Black mayors, whom we never challenge on anything, and ask them to fund specific initiatives. Write plans for community action. We need to develop an agenda and act on it.”