A New Milestone for America’s Young Men of Color
By Ken Zimmerman
For many years now, organizations across the country have been working tirelessly to help America’s young men of color reach their full potential in school, work, and life. Today this movement has reached a new milestone with President Obama’s announcement of “My Brother’s Keeper”—a joint effort involving government, philanthropy, the corporate sector, and faith-based and advocacy organizations. The Open Society Foundations are proud to be one of ten foundations serving as initial sponsors of this partnership.
The impetus behind My Brother’s Keeper is the recognition that our highest aspirations as a nation cannot be realized if we leave behind our boys and men of color. All over the United States, effective programs are lifting up the important contributions that young men of color make to our communities. Through efforts such as The California Endowment’s Sons & Brothers campaign, the Knight Foundation’s support of the BMe (Black Male Engagement) initiative, and the Atlantic Philanthropies’ pioneering work on school discipline reform, America’s leading foundations have committed tens of millions of dollars to efforts that directly or primarily support boys and men of color.
They are helping our sons, brothers, and fathers become more resilient and successful by giving them the support they need to navigate obstacles and make healthy choices. These initiatives provide them with valuable work experiences, mentoring, and counseling. At the same time, they advance corresponding changes in policy, programs, and practice that are necessary to address the structural barriers, racial disparities, and stereotypes that needlessly limit opportunity for young men of color.
In the Open Society Foundations’ work to advance black male achievement, we have seen many promising solutions that make a difference in the lives of boys and men of color. For the last five years, through our Campaign for Black Male Achievement, we have made a long-term investment in improving the life outcomes of black males through mentoring, expansion of educational opportunities, and development of common-sense school discipline policies that educate and support rather than punish. The campaign also launched the Institute for Black Male Achievement, which is dedicated to strengthening the capacity of leaders and organizations committed to this important work.
We are pleased to build upon this work by joining with President Obama along with our peers in philanthropy as well as the corporate, nonprofit, and faith communities to build this new partnership on behalf of our sons and brothers. There is immense potential for this new alignment of a broad range of stakeholders that will identify promising policy approaches, support innovators and activists, and help to change the false and damaging narratives that unfairly cast these young men in a negative light.
We have learned that collaborative approaches can have real traction in improving the life outcomes of boys and men of color. One example is the New York City Young Men’s Initiative, a $127-million, three-year partnership between New York City, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Open Society Foundations, which utilizes a range of programs and approaches to address systemic barriers faced by young black and Latino men and boys.
These types of collaborations demonstrate that young people are more successful when caring adults are involved in their lives and work together to remove obstacles to success. Whether we are foundations, parents, mentors, educators, employers, pastors, or community leaders, it’s imperative that we all work together to create more and better opportunities for our boys and young men to succeed in school, work, and life.
In addition to the Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic partners include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, California Endowment, Ford Foundation, John and James L. Knight Foundation, Kapor Center for Social Impact, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Until January 2018, Ken Zimmerman was the director of U.S. Programs.