Inside Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative

Solutions to complex issues like the impact of race require not just a desire to change but the actual tools to make change. In 2014, the Obama administration began My Brother’s Keeper, a public and private collaboration to create opportunities for young men of color to address many of the challenges they face. Broderick Johnson, chair of the task force, joins PBS NewsHour Weekend from Washington D.C.

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    As the law enforcement officials we've just heard from know solutions to racial injustice require not just a desire to change, but the actual tools to make change. The Obama administration launched My Brother's Keeper, a public and private initiative in 2014 to create opportunities for young men of color and to address their needs.

    So, we've asked Broderick Johnson, assistant to the president, cabinet secretary, and the chair of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force to join us from Washington, D.C. to tell us what progress they've made.

    Mr. Johnson, what street this program providing that was missing?


    Thank you very much for having me on.

    My Brother's Keeper is providing an opportunity to make transformational change across the country and to do it based on looking at, in a very rigorous way, those points in the life of all kids, but especially the lives of boys and young men of color to see when we can intervene to have an impact. That work has been going very well, what we're proud of is the fact that there are over 250 communities across the United States, in all 50 states that have adopted president's vision and framework for our Brother's Keeper.


    I notice quite a bit of mentoring in the program.


    Yes. You know, that stems from the view the president has that every young person needs a caring adult in his or her life. And, of course, in many, many African-American communities and Hispanic communities, those boys and young men especially need to have a male figure in their lives.

    So, we've been working with the NBA and working with the Ad Council and many other groups, to try to provide as many mentors as we possibly can. And we've seen thousands of new mentors take up that responsibility.


    Is there one program you see that you think is really a truly a success story?


    Yes, Detroit. Detroit is one of the premiere My Brother's Keeper communities in that they started to work very aggressively from the beginning, involved the community, had very specific goals. One that I'm especially happy to hear about is that they have a summer jobs program, as do many other communities, of course. They are providing 8,000 summer jobs this summer and 2,000 of those jobs will associate young people in Detroit with the police department in Detroit.

    And, certainly, we look at issues around community policing and trust and young people. That's an especially important thing to take note of.


    You bring me to my next question. What impact does My Brother's Keeper have on the relationship between young black men, young men of color and police departments?


    Well, you know, fundamentally, these issues as we've been talking about in terms of the police and the communities they serve, especially young people of color come down to trust. In many of My Brother's Keeper communities, in fact, we are seeing — they come forth with their own local ideas and plans and emphasis, we've seen a number of communities focus on getting police officials to work with young people, to develop trust, to talk about careers and law enforcement. But to break down the barriers of just trust and fear that we often see, of course, that lead to many of the tragedies that we have seen lately.

    I'd like to say, but it's important to get beyond sort of aspirations and to talk about real things. So, we're very proud that this weekend, largest African-American police organization, NOBLE, is going to be announcing a partnership with My Brother's Keeper to directly focus on these issues around trust and relationships between police officers and the communities they serve, especially boys and young men of color.


    What do you say to folks who are saying, you know what, this is not happening fast enough, we're not getting results fast enough?


    Well, I guess I would say that we in fact, we are seeing results. We're seeing tremendous results across the country. I've been traveling to what we call NBK communities on a regular basis, people are so excited about the work. What they're excited about is first of all, that this is in accord with a vision of the president of the United States. Second, that is being built to be sustainable so that this work will go on and it's making transformational change.

    And third, though, there's a recognition that we didn't get into these issues overnight. That this is really stemming from more than just decades of challenges in this country around race and equity, but centuries. So, it will take us awhile certainly to be able to combat a lot of the issues, but that if we chip away, we make progress, we look at results, we focus on what works. In fact, we are making a difference.


    Broderick Johnson, thank you so much for taking the time today.


    Thank you very much.