My Brother’s Keeper: A Need to Focus

Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink, recently shared her thoughts on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which was designed by the Obama Administration to address opportunity gaps faced by young men of color to ensure they have the necessary supports to succeed. In her blog posting, Blackwell reasons that, when done correctly, strategies that are targeted at a specific group can benefit all in the long run. The Forum for Youth Investment’s own CEO, Karen Pittman, adds her own sentiments in response to Blackwell’s piece.

Thank you, Angela. You are absolutely right to argue that focusing on those most at risk of not getting to the finish line often helps us improve opportunities for other groups just a bit ahead in the queue.

Your wise argument makes me think of the old saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” While that may be true, it is also true that a rising tide can drown those who aren’t in the boat and, inadvertently, push others further out to sea who happen to be in a weaker craft. Peter Edelman, Harry J. Holzer and Paul Offner documented this tendency in Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men. Their research demonstrates that time and time again (dating back more than a half century ago), the rising tide raised all boats but one: young men of color.  

As this nation pulls its way out of our current recession, it is reasonable to assume that absent a focus on this unique population at this moment in time, they will be left out of the recovery once again. In so doing, we would perpetuate the deep cycles of poverty and disconnection too many communities suffer from generation after generation, and place an overall drag on the nation’s economy as a whole.

For far too long we have left far too many young boys and men of color literally “up the creek without a paddle”.  So while there are many who question the narrowed focus of the initiative, I ask of them: How can we afford not to be generous with our attention?