Building on What Works to Create Opportunity for Young Men of Color

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During his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama called on the philanthropic and business communities to help his Administration come up with solutions to the myriad challenges faced by young men and boys of color. He stated, “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”

Making good on this pledge, President Obama recently announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and held a convening at the East Room of the White House today to kick off this important work, beginning with the establishment of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. The initiative will focus on implementing practical, results-driven strategies to ensure that young men of color are on equal footing with their peers in having access to opportunities to achieve the American dream. President Obama enlisted a wide cross-section of support for this groundbreaking public-private partnership. In the room were foundation leaders, corporate executives and local leaders such as NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

My brothers keeper

In acknowledging that these young men face unique challenges and pledging to take action to address on them, President Obama made visible an often overlooked crisis among young men and boys of color – no other segment of society is plagued by such disproportionately high rates of violence-related deaths, incarceration and unemployment. This sorry state of affairs has resulted in not only to daily tragedies for young men of color, it also threatens the health and prosperity of the nation as a whole.

This is an issue that is near and dear to our hearts at the National League of Cities. We have been working for a number of years with partners such as Casey Family Programs and the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Achievement to expand opportunity and prevent violence among young men of color.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaking at the Cities United inaugural convening in New Orleans.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaking at the Cities United inaugural convening in New Orleans.

Along with our foundation partners, we have worked with Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia and Mayor Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans to spearhead the Cities United initiative, whose inaugural convening is currently taking place (February 26th – 27th, 2014) in New Orleans. Cities United is an initiative involving mayors across the country who are taking on the problem of youth violence in our city streets. The initiative is designed to assist mayors and municipal leaders create safer, healthier communities by working across multiple sectors with a broad set of partners to identify achievable, commonsense solutions to ending the high levels of violence that affect too many African-American men and boys. Obama acknowledged this good work in his address. “A bipartisan group of mayors called Cities United has made this an issue across the country,” he said.

Across the country, as evidenced by initiatives such as Cities United, we are seeing increasing numbers of local elected officials, entrepreneurs, foundations and corporations realize the great potential embodied by men and boys of color.

My Brother’s Keeper is focused on action-oriented partnerships with stakeholders to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential. The newly established My Brother’s Keeper Task Force will be assessing and suggesting improvements to federal policies, regulations and programs that apply to boys and young men of color, and will provide recommendations to President Obama on ways to ensure this effort is sustained for years to come within government and across public and private sectors. “This is an issue of national importance, it’s important as any issue I work on, it goes to the heart of why I ran for President,” Obama emphatically stated.

We couldn’t agree more with the president that 2014 must be a “year of action” on this issue. And cities are ready to lead the charge. At the Cities United convening, we had nearly 20 mayors in attendance from large and small cities across the country. From Birmingham and Louisville to Milwaukee and Oakland, cities are working to reduce violence and violent deaths among young men of color in their communities and to break down remaining barriers to equality. I encourage you to learn more about and join us in this important work.


About the Author: Clarence Anthony is the Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow Clarence on Twitter at @ceanthony50.