President Barack Obama Have You Been Your Brothers Keeper.

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( I got a call today from CNN to discuss the new initiative launched by the White House called “My brother’s keeper.”  From what I’d gathered, the program is one that is designed to create opportunities for men of color, which I certainly appreciate.  I’ll admit that while I agree with the sentiment behind the program, I am not sure what to think.  Dr. Michael Fauntroy, a noted political scientist at Howard University says that the program can be put in the category of, “Better late than never.”

What took him so long?” Dr. Fauntroy asked.  ”Also, if there is no money behind it and no resources, this might be nothing better than good PR.”

The president and his people say that they’ve secured $200 million in funding over the next five years.  There also seems to be an indication that President Obama is planning to make this one of his cornerstone initiatives even after his presidency has come to an end.   So, while the political motivations are obvious and deep, there is a possibility that this might be the real deal.

Dr. Fauntroy believes that the Democrats are aware that there is much at stake with the upcoming midterm elections.  He says that if the DemocratsBarackObama-BrothersKeeper lose the Senate, then Obama’s presidency is effectively over.   So, like myself, Dr. Fauntroy speculates that the Democrats understand that drumming up enthusiasm in the African American community is a great (and inexpensive) way to combat this pending threat.  So, there is probably a reason that the initiative was announced now rather than sooner in the Obama presidency.

This week, I met with Father Michael Pfleger during a speeh by Dr. Cornel West.   Father Pfleger has been one of the most consistent advocates for young black males in the country.  Every conversation we have typically starts with him saying the words “The brothers out here need help.  They need jobs.” Pfleger regularly partners with Minister Louis Farrakhan to do things and go places to help young black men that other people won’t go.

So, Pfleger, Farrkhan and I are on the same page when it comes to the value of helping young men of color get opportunities in a world that has marginalized them, left them behind and has no problem seeing their dead bodies in the street.  That then makes me wonder why President Obama’s strongest Chicago ally, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, hasn’t been adequately supportive of the efforts by grass roots activists to help the young black men struggling right in his hometown of Chicago.   If you want to grow more flowers, you should probably speak to the gardner and give him money to buy more seeds. Simply giving money to elitist programs like the ones at The University of Chicago may send the message that assimilation is the key to the salvation of the black male.  But a more serious effort will involve reaching black men in all walks of life and confronting systematic obstacles that create the outcomes that we’re seeing.

So, if anyone would be able to assess the validity of the White House initiative for men of color, it would be Father Pfleger.   Without sharing the nature of our private discussion on the matter, I did NOT get the sense that Father Pfleger believes that this initiative is going to do much for men of color.  At the very least, there is a ”let’s wait and see” approached being shared by anyone who didn’t fall in love with the Obama presidency from day one.

Here are some details on the program I received in an email from the White House.   According to the email, the initiative is designed to:

Ø Assess the impact of Federal policies, regulations, and programs of general applicability on boys and young men of color, so as to develop proposals that will enhance positive outcomes and eliminate or reduce negative ones.

Ø Recommend, where appropriate, incentives for the broad adoption by national, State, and local public and private decision makers of effective and innovative strategies and practices for providing opportunities to and improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.

Ø Create an Administration-wide “What Works” online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.

Ø Develop a comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education, that will assess, on an ongoing basis, critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color in absolute and relative terms.

Ø Work with external stakeholders to highlight the opportunities, challenges, and efforts affecting boys and young men of color.

Ø Recommend to the President means of ensuring sustained efforts within the Federal Government and continued partnership with the private sector and philanthropic community as set forth in the Presidential Memorandum.

My perspective on the president’s new initiative might be best reflected by sharing a Facebook status update I posted earlier today.  I would argue that many in the black community are skeptical of the president’s iniative, largely because they’ve been screaming for support for years and have received nothing more than a deaf ear and blind eye from the White House.  So, in some ways, you can compare them to a woman with folded arms who is listening to her lying husband tell her that he is determined to change his ways. 

The status update is below.

Someone asked me why I wasnt excited about Obama’s new initiative “My brother’s keeper.”  My simple response is that it’s too little, too late, and appears to be nothing more than a ploy to make up lost ground just in time for us to vote in the mid-term elections (listen to any Democrat and watch carefully how often they start talking about their fight to preserve African American voting rights – this is what keeps them in power).
Some people have said, “Wait Boyce…you complained that he wasn’t doing enough.  Now you’re upset when he tries to do something…you’re just a critic no matter what.”
My response (as a person who endorsed Barack Obama on CNN before most black people did):  ”If my landlord says, ‘You haven’t paid rent for six months’,” and I come back to him a year later with a check for $25, I can’t then say, “I’m giving you money now, so why are you still complaining?  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t!  You’re just determined to hate me!”
Bottom line:  When our wonderful president was asked to consider depression-level black unemployment as an agenda item many years ago, he flat out said that this wasn’t going to be a priority.  As a result, we’ve seen astronomical leaps in the status and opportunities for gay Americans, but African Americans are worse off than we’ve been under any president of the last 20 years.  The reason for these outcomes is simple:  We’ve traded symbolism for substance and it has cost us dearly.
Maybe the program will mean something, but it’s hard not to believe that it’s simply a ploy to get black people out to vote during the midterm elections.  At the same time, I encourage critics of the president to have an open mind in order to see if the program helps to make real progress.  Investing in young black men is one of the most critical and fundamental needs in the African American community.  But it can’t be a gimmick, shouldn’t be about getting votes and can’t be a publicity stunt.  There are real lives at stake.
Is Barack Obama serious or not?  I can’t say for certain, because I’ve never met the man.  But I ask him out loud, “Based on your actions over the last six years, have you truly been your brother’s keeper?”
Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins 
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  For more information, please visit