'My Brother's Keeper' initiative kicks off in Oakland

A White House representative was in Oakland to help work on President Obama's effort to improve the lives of young men of color.
March 11, 2014 9:07:38 PM PDT
A month ago, President Obama launched "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative to support boys and young men of color. On Tuesday, the White House sent a representative to begin some of that work in Oakland. The initiative takes a look at the challenges that all young men of color face, but particularly African Americans, and you can't start that conservation without going to Oakland.

David Johns with the Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans is a towering figure who went from the White House to Oakland to look for ways to improve the lives of young African American men. His first stop was Oakland High, where he spoke to students about what they need to succeed.

"The role of supporting each of our students and ensuring that everyone has access to high-quality education and workforce development opportunities, requires all hands on deck," he said.

Tuesday's visit was part of President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative. Oakland's Mayor Jean Quan was invited to the White House last month to help promote it. The initiative will support local programs that will in turn, help young men of color get ahead. Foundations have already committed $200 million toward the president's plan.

Oakland High student Barry Williams says it was encouraging to be heard. "When they hear the reality, they're going to be able to, you know, agree with me, 'Oh, you know, he's right, like, you know, we need to change this.' And, I just want, you know, I just want to help create change in our community," he told ABC7 News.

A 2011 report by the Urban Strategies Council found African American men were worse off than any other group in Oakland and were victims of most of the crimes committed there. Johns says that image has to change and adds that people have to start looking at the young men as productive individuals.

"The teachers don't always see you for who you are," Johns said. "That's something that perturbs me." He says many of the young men also need mentors. "If each of us will take time out of our schedules to wrap our arms around young people, to encourage them, to support them, to expose them to things they have not seen before, we will start to chip away at a lot of these problems," he said.

Julian Taylor says his mentor held him accountable for coming to school. "He helped us. He just pushed us along, not giving up on us and just going hard on us every day we come to school," he said.

As part of the president's initiative, there will be a series of summits beginning at Morehouse College in Atlanta at the end of March. Oakland will be one of those cities and the summit will take place in June at Laney College.


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