My Brother’s Keeper Sees Slow Progress

One year after President Barack Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative promoting education of young men of color, an initial White House report reflecting on the program’s first year concluded little tangible progress has been made but noted that the initiative has sparked conversations around the nation about how to improve the educational system.

On Feb. 27, 2014, Obama signed a memorandum establishing a presidential task force to investigate ways to give young men of color increased educational opportunities. Additionally, it aimed to encourage investment by ordering the federal government, local governments and private sector enterprises to commit ideas and capital to forwarding the program’s progress. Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation hosted an event in August to brainstorm solutions as part of the program.

The 57-page report published by the My Brother’s Keeper task force concludes that the main achievement of My Brother’s Keeper has generated conversation about innovation in education, bringing together local governments, federal programs and private companies to discuss solutions for young men of color.

“[My Brother’s Keeper] encouraged candid dialogues around the country and a greater sense of responsibility among community leaders and young people,” Assistant to the President Broderick Johnson, who chairs the task force, wrote in the report.
One notable initiative sparked by My Brother’s Keeper is the Empowering Males of Color initiative launched in D.C. public schools in January by Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, GRD ’07), which targets grants to specific District schools to invest in the education of black and Latino males.

Since September 2014, 200 community leaders, including Bowser and Henderson, had accepted the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge to review public policy and encourage new ideas about education for their communities. In addition, private businesses have contributed more than $300 million to the program.

The My Brother’s Keeper initiative intends to boost the number of young men of color entering school with an attitude to learn and graduating from high school with a career or education path in mind, while also reducing violence at home. However, the report notes that there have been no noticeable shifts in such measures of young male minority education thus far.
Alberto Morales, assistant director of the Georgetown Scholarship Program, said the program is too new to see any prominent results and expressed optimism about its future.

“Since it’s only in its first year, education leaders are still quantifying the results of the program,” Morales said. “There is excitement across cities around this initiative because, for years, nonprofit leaders have been working tirelessly around this work, and now they have a nationwide movement.”

The federal government has realigned its focus to utilize more data-driven analysis, which has been featured prominently in the design of the initiative.

Although initial analyses record little movement toward the goals of My Brother’s Keeper, the strategy has been translated into events known as data jams, which gather technology experts, innovators and community leaders to design innovative systems of education to reach young men of color more effectively.

In partnership with My Brother’s Keeper, the Beeck Center hosted a Data Jam last August. During the event, 20 teams worked on new approaches to education, with seven of those teams later presenting to the Department of Education.
Beeck Center Director of Engagement Elizabeth Anderson said the Data Jam was a positive step to involve the community.

“[W]ith that Data Jam, it was about including a diverse set of community partners’ voices,” she said. “[We wanted] to see how we could help boys and men of color increase their access to opportunities for education and success.”

Anderson said that the Data Jams, and the My Brother’s Keeper program at large, have been successful because of their local, personalized approach to each community.

“When you’re setting up any kind of national policy, you have to adapt it to the needs of different communities,” Anderson said. “Anything driven from the top down doesn’t work.”

Outside of the Data Jam, Georgetown programs have not been in regular contact with the initiative. However, Morales said that the goals of My Brother’s Keeper mirror the objectives of GSP, which provides support for first-generation college students or students from low-income backgrounds.

“We don’t have an established partnership with My Brother’s Keeper,” Morales said. “[But] as far as our overlapping missions, they both definitely align.”

Obama’s decision to focus first on young men of color instead of young girls has drawn questions, yet Anderson argued that this emphasis is logical.

According to Anderson, much like the rest of the project, the decision to focus on boys was the result of data analytics, which show that young men of color lag behind young girls in metrics such as graduation rates.

“It’s pretty pragmatic because it’s about the data,” she said. “The data says that [boys are] having higher rates of dropouts and that’s why the focus is on boys.”

Morales noted that the idea of focusing on boys first was also centered not only on improving their conditions in the short term, but also on having a long-term conversation about greater issues of inequality, which would eventually lead into related discussions about girls.

“[My Brother’s Keeper] has created a national conversation on the structural barriers that impact men of color and limit them from reaching their full potential,” Morales said. “[It] now has inspired new discussion on the inequity that women of color equally face.”

The focus on young men of color does not mean it leaves out education opportunities for other individuals, according to Morales, who said that My Brother’s Keeper, despite only being in existence for one year, has already begun to provide a roadmap for other underprivileged children.

“We, as a country, are now turning to the experiences of very diverse populations in education,” Morales said. “Now is the time to act … and ensure that as many people as possible are included in the conversation.”

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