Barack Obama’s next chapter: Boosting African-American youth

Some ex-presidents paint. Others form foundations. Some monitor international elections. Others go skydiving. And of course, they all play golf and make money giving speeches.

Now, President Obama has announced his next focus: He will keep on being his brother’s keeper.

In a speech at Lehman College in the Bronx, Obama laid out plans for the expansion of My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative launched more than a year ago to provide opportunities for boys and young men of color. The new group will be called My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit outgrowth of the original program. It will assist companies to make more jobs available to minorities. So far, My Brother’s Keeper has raised $80 million, thanks to the backing of companies such as American Express and Pepsi Co.

The group is headed by the former CEO of Deloitte, Joe Echevarria, and has a board of directors that includes John Rogers, founder of Ariel Capital Management; musician John Legend; Michael Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia; former NBA star Alonzo Mourning; and Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of TIME Magazine and now president and CEO of the Aspen Institute.

One of the programs from My Brother’s Keeper that will be expanded is Year-Up, an intensive one-year program to train at-risk kids for the work force and place them with large companies. The program has been successful in its early stages and will reach more young men when expanded.

“In every community in America, there are young people with incredible drive and talent — and they just don’t have the same kinds of chances that somebody like me had,” Obama said. “They’re just as talented. Just as smart. They don’t get a chance.”

In his speech, Obama explained the need for the expanded program by making references to recent protests and police killings in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo.

“If we’re just looking at policing, we’re looking at it too narrowly,” Obama said.  “If we ask the police to simply contain and control problems that we ourselves have been unwilling to invest and solve, that’s not fair to the communities, it’s not fair to the police.”

Actions and programs like this are sorely needed, he said. “There are consequences to inaction. There are consequences to indifference. And they reverberate far beyond the walls of the projects, or the borders of the barrio, or the roads of the reservation. They sap us of our strength as a nation. It means we’re not as good as we could be. And over time, it wears us out. Over time, it weakens our nation as a whole.”

An online piece by Jonathan Alter at The Daily Beast gives more detail about My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, its aims, and the reasons behind them.

“An MBK report says that closing the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students could increase annual GDP by more than half a trillion dollars,” Alter says. “Every kid between ages 16 and 24 disconnected from school and work eventually costs taxpayers nearly $1 million in safety-net or incarceration costs. Meanwhile, three million decent jobs will soon be out there for anyone with the right training.

“Solid research has now proven the severe economic consequences of kids without pre-K, of kids not reading at grade level at third grade, of teens not graduating from high school and getting at least some post-secondary training, of non-violent inmates not being given a second chance to become law-abiding taxpayers,” Alter continues. “Those are the main areas of intervention that Obama says he will keep returning to long after the cameras are gone.”

Once Obama leaves office, My Brother’s Keeper will become his focus. He promised to keep working on issues like racial equality long after his presidency is over.

“This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life,” he told the crowd at Lehman.

One other, unrelated matter. Obama is soon set to give an official announcement about the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Foundation, which will be built on Chicago’s South Side, where Obama launched his political career. The University of Chicago, where Obama taught constitutional law, won the competition to host the library, and two different spots are being considered.

In case anyone at the White House is reading this, I vote for Washington Park. It’s right by a Green Line El stop, making it by far the more accessible spot for public transportation, especially for South Siders. And who doesn’t want to start a new life chapter by helping the environment?

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