Long before he arrived at the White House, Barack Obama was the son of a single mother, challenged and tempted by the same societal ills that disproportionately keep African-Americans impoverished and behind bars. Now the nation’s first black president is unveiling a new initiative aimed at breaking down those obstacles, and pledging to continue the fight long after his presidency ends.
Joined at the White House by young men of color, Obama on Thursday was calling on America’s businesses, philanthropists and government leaders to join forces to put more boys on a path toward successful lives. Foundations were to announce pledges to spend at least $200 million over five years to promote that goal as Obama launches his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
Those organizations, which include prominent groups like the Ford Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will seek to coordinate their investments to create and bolster programs that keep youths in school and out of the criminal justice system, while improving their access to higher education. The White House said it expects money for those programs to grow “exponentially” as major businesses start to pitch in.
Obama will also sign a presidential memorandum creating a government-wide task force to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches, so that federal and local governments, community groups and businesses will have best practices to follow in the future. An online “What Works” portal will provide public access to data about programs that improve outcomes for young minority men.
Drawing on the power of example, Obama will single out one of his own staffers to show that humble beginnings need not dictate a hopeless adulthood, according to White House officials, who demanded anonymity to disclose details about the speech ahead of Obama’s remarks.
Maurice Owens, known to his colleagues as “Moe,” came of age in a crime-ridden Bronx neighborhood where many of his peers ended up imprisoned or dead. With the help of his mother, who was to join Owens at the White House on Thursday, he secured a scholarship to a good high school, made it through college and the Air Force, and eventually landed two doors down from the Oval Office, where he serves as an aide to Obama’s chief of staff.
Obama’s message to black youth: If kids who grew up like Moe can make it, so can you.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, said Thursday marks the start of an effort that the president and first lady Michelle Obama plan to undertake “for the rest of their lives.”
“That’s a moral, social responsibility that they feel will transcend the time that he’s president,” Jarrett said.
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