The moment I first laid eyes on my daughter, I knew my life would never be the same. Of course, with parenthood comes the expected phases of sleeplessness, anxiety, and self-doubt, which are all buoyed by overwhelming joy and unconditional love.
I also began looking at all children differently, knowing that each of their precious lives could one day intersect with that of my daughter, directly or indirectly.
When President Obama joined leaders from philanthropic foundations, businesses and community advocacy groups to launch the My Brother’s Keeper initiative earlier this year, the intent was to galvanize public and private sector efforts to empower boys and young men of color, a group of Americans who are too often overlooked or left behind.
As of 2013, just 14 percent of Black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys were reading at grade level by the 4th grade. By the 9th grade, 42 percent of Black male students have been suspended or expelled from school, compared to 14 percent of white male students. While making up just over 6 percent of the overall population, Black males accounted for 43 percent of murder victims in 2011.
My Brother’s Keeper capitalizes on decades of work done by churches, foundations, community organizations, schools, and businesses to ensure that boys and young men of color have the support and opportunities they need to succeed. They have developed tutoring and mentorship programs, leadership development opportunities, violence prevention efforts, fatherhood and relationship education, internships and job training, and comprehensive reentry services. Through their work, a great deal has been learned about what works and what doesn’t, and My Brother’s Keeper aims to ensure that those lessons are used to meaningfully touch the lives of more and more young men each year.
Through an economic lens, boys and young men of color represent a vital segment of our future workforce, which we can’t afford to forfeit or neglect. Our families will continue to rely on their strength and vitality too, which is why bolstering their stability and financial security can translate to healthier relationships, stronger household incomes, less stress, more supportive family structures for children.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once put it this way: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Understanding how the lives of young men growing up across the street, across town, or across the country affects the lives of our children is part of being an American. We are all in this together, so investing in the success of our boys and young men of color should be a priority for anyone concerned with the future of our economy and workforce. And it should be a priority for anyone who has ever looked into the eyes of their own child and hoped for the best future possible. As a parent, I know that to be ‘my brother’s keeper,’ is to be my daughter’s keeper too.
Valerie Jarrett serves as Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.