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The President signed a critical initiative focused on the needs of black and brown boys and young men.  It’s an important step and a reminder that we need to support young brothers and encourage them to be more than a stereotype.

There are moments when people crowd around a screen, paralyzed by the action that is playing out.  Those moments when people are unified in an event and bound together by the emotion of what they are watching.  It was that type of experience that held the attention of the staff in the DC Bureau of National Action Network as we watched the announcement by President Obama discussing the issues of young men and boys of color.  It was a moment that brought tears to our eyes as we understood the significance of the first black President standing in front of a group of young minority men while addressing the needs that he could identify with and trying to remedy inequalities that too many in society deny exist.

Minority youth, particularly Blacks and Latinos, often face unique challenges that their White counterparts do not.  In many facets of life including education, interactions with the criminal justice system, and unemployment, men of color are on the wrong side of the statistics.  The phenomenon is nothing new.  Despite gains of men within each ethnic group to great levels of success, there are still many more that face stumbling blocks that fragment their growth and debilitate their potential. 

Now, with commitments from major foundations including The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The California Endowment, The Ford Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Open Society Foundations, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and The Kapor Center for Social Impact, collectively we can address the obstacles that Black and Latino men have faced for decades if not centuries.  Working specifically in the areas of early childhood education and preparedness for school, parental engagement in education, literacy, ladders of opportunity, and interactions with the criminal justice system among others, the foundations will work to find the best practices in these areas and have committed at least $200 million to the effort. 

One of the things the President addressed more than once in his speech was the absence of fathers in the lives of young men. He discussed it with the young men who were standing on the stage with him, it was mentioned by the young man introducing him and it was mentioned again as the President recalled a conversation with US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  A father’s presence is vitally important in any child’s life, but to young men of color, it’s even more needed. The unfortunate truth is that there aren’t enough fathers who participate in their children’s lives for too many reasons to enumerate.  What’s needed in the gap are mentors, specifically, men who step up and provide the younger generation with insight into how to cope with the challenges of life and how to capitalize on the opportunities.  

During NAN’s Annual Convention, April 9th – 12th in New York City, we will host a Black Male Panel for the second year in a row focused on the topics of fatherhood and mentorship.  Through the panel we plan to address specific actions that organizations and individuals can focus on to ensure that our young men are being properly guided.  When we are able to uplift our men and restore their confidence in a society where they have at times been castigated and pushed aside, we will be able to restore strength to our community and promise to future generations.  But it will take the commitment of more than the President to make it happen.  We are all our brother’s keepers and we must participate in helping to see this initiative to its zenith.