President Barack Obama is in the fourth quarter of his presidency, but he’s more determined than ever to follow through on his commitment to help at-risk boys of color achieve success.
That was the message Broderick Johnson delivered on April 14 at the National Action Network convention.
Johnson is the president’s cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. Obama launched the public-private initiative in 2014. It combines the resources of cities nationwide with businesses and foundations. Mentors are also essential participants in the endeavor.
A few weeks ago, Johnson and U.S. Secretary of Education John King were in Miami to launch MBK’s Success Mentors Initiative. In the first phase of the initiative, mentors will reach more than 250,000 sixth and ninth graders in mainly low-income communities to eliminate chronic absenteeism, which hinders their chances of graduating. At its peak, the initiative will reach more than 1 million K-12 students nationwide.
Johnson spoke about the many young lives MBK is reaching and the obstacles the boys confront. He highlighted a disturbing encounter during a roundtable discussion with a 13-year-old MBK participant in Miami.
The teenager, who lives in the high-crime, low-income Liberty City, Miami neighborhood, wore a “rest in peace t-shirt” with the picture of two African-American boys. Johnson inquired about their identity.
“One was his cousin, who was nine years old. The other was his 13-year-old neighbor, who was shot and killed recently,” Johnson said. “When I asked the other 20 young men in the room if they knew someone who had been shot. We are ashamed to say this, but it’s not a shock, that everyone raised his hand.”
Although they faced “unspeakable” violence every day, Johnson said they had “bright eyes and dreams.” The students knew which colleges they want to attend. Some planned on becoming coders, lawyers, doctors, or the president of the United States, he said.
Much work remains in other communities across the country. Johnson said the team continues to work as hard now as they did when the program was launched—even though the clock is ticking down on Mr. Obama’s final term in office.
A seed has been planted to enable MBK to flourish beyond his presidency.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nigel Roberts, Getty