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Mentoring Groups Worry about Funding for ‘My Brother’s Keeper’
5/15/2014 12:54:50 PM

President Obama announcing his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen)
By Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A controversy last week over potential funding linked to President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative underscored concerns that groups led by people of color have expressed over access to public and private sector resources.

At the heart of the confusion was a request for proposal (RFP) issued through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for a youth mentoring program grant. In March, the grant required groups that wanted to apply be active in 30 states. By April, that requirement had been revised upward to 45 states, placing the grant far beyond the reach of most minority-led groups that mentor underserved minority youth in the United States.

A paragraph in the RFP connecting the grant to the president’s My Brother’s Keeper program seemed to complicate the matter.

In a letter dated April 28, addressed to Robert Listenbee, the administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Michael Brown, president of 100 Black Men of America, Inc., said that the rule change, “not only effectively eliminated our organization from meeting the eligibility requirements for funding, but also dashed any hopes that such venerable institutions as the National Urban League, the NAACP and each of nine Historically Black Greek Organizations may have had for competing in this significant funding opportunity.”

In a separate letter, Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, wrote that his group was “surprised,” “greatly disappointed and deeply concerned” about the rule change.

“The Department’s stated commitment to ‘include mentoring opportunities for young men and boys of color in order to build resilience, encourage empowerment, and facilitate community engagement and participation’ is directly undermined by the reframing of the national program that by definition, removes organizations such as the National Urban League from even competing for funds,” wrote Morial.

Both letters were later posted on

By May 1, however, 100 Black Men of America seemed to step back from their criticism of OJJDP, offering a brief statement through their Twitter account that said that they met with the Department of Justice and found that their concern “was not related to My Brother’s Keeper which is still moving forward.”

Last week, all media inquiries for 100 Black Men of America were referred to Greg Heydel, vice president and group director of reputation management at Matlock Advertising and Public Relations in Atlanta, Ga., who e-mailed the 100 Black Men of America’s May 1 statement to reporters.

The OJJDP removed the language about My Brother’s Keeper from the grant application.

Broderick Johnson, White House cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, said, “The Department of Justice readily admitted that it led to a misunderstanding that’s been corrected and we made it clear to other agencies that they shouldn’t put things out like that with regards to their solicitations.”

George Garrow, executive director of Concerned Black Men, a national organization that works to enrich the lives of young Black males, said that the mistake was unfortunate for the president’s fledgling project.

“They are people that are out there that don’t want to see this [My Brother Keeper’s program] happen at all and will take those types of things and use that against all of us. That little dust up that happened on, that could have been cleared up with a phone call,” said Garrow. “The next thing you know, it’s a bunch of mess.”

The task force’s report, that will be ?released in less than a month, will offer a review of best practices and evidenced-based strategies focused on early learning and literacy, pathways to college and careers, ladders to jobs, mentors and support networks, and interactions with criminal justice and violent crime.

The crisis facing boys and young men of color as they transition to adulthood has been chronicled for decades.

Black males are more at risk to be suspended than their White peers, suffer a disproportionate number of expulsions and more than 40 percent of referrals to law enforcement while in school.

A 2012 study titled “The Urgency of Now” by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, reported that barely half (52 percent) of Black males graduate from high school in four years, compared to 78 percent of White males.

Research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., found that 9 percent of male high school dropouts, ages 16–24, are incarcerated or in detention. For young Black male dropouts of the same age, that number is 23 percent.

And when one high school dropout can cost the nation more than a quarter of a million dollars, over their lifetime in lost earnings, taxes and productivity, allowing Black males to dropout in droves threatens the country’s economic security.

“If you say that you want to increase the high school graduation rate, you can do some generic things with generic young people, but if you’re really going to impact the high school graduation rate, you need to develop strategies that are specifically focused on Black boys, because Black boys account for a disproportionate number of students graduating at low rates,” Garrow said.

He said that he’s hopeful that this effort, with the president putting his weight behind it.

“To really have a lasting impact on Black kids you have to get those multi-year funding bequests to sustain a program over a lengthy period of time. That’s when you see positive outcomes for our kids, when you’re able to stay the course,” he explained.

Garrow also expressed concerns that some groups, that have worked for years to help young Black men, don’t have the infrastructure to independently evaluate their programs and present concrete data that their programs work. The very type of evidence-based strategies that President Obama called for in his speech on the My Brother’s Keeper program in February.

“If you’re going to foundations and seeking federal funding you have to have those evaluation pieces in place, because you’re going to have to show people that you’re having a measurable impact and seeing positive outcomes in the population that you’re serving,” said Garrow.

Johnson said that it’s critical to work with people who are on the ground and in the neighborhoods doing the hard work and that the My Brother’s Keeper program isn’t viewed as something crafted by people who run national organizations that are based in a handful of cities.

“This is a long-term project and it’s important that people understand that the president didn’t get into this for a 90-day report or a 90-day project or short-term grants for FY2014, or ’15,” said Johnson. “Throughout his administration and beyond, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ will exist to make a difference for a long time.”

Visitor Comments
Submit A Comment
Submitted By: Florence Parks Submitted: 5/15/2014
As a practitioner in the mentoring field for 13 years I must agree its so important to get funding into the hands of community based programs Smaller mentoring efforts develop their programing to fit the needs of their populations. Funding has been targeted towards these larger initiatives for the past few years and the smaller programs have been left to fend on their own. Many to close their doors. Its time to shift the funding to programs that have a pulse on the needs of their communities, which many serve the most at promise (high risk) youth.

Submitted By: Florence Parks Submitted: 5/15/2014
As a practitioner in the mentoring field for 13 years I must agree its so important to get funding into the hands of community based programs Smaller mentoring efforts develop their programing to fit the needs of their populations. Funding has been targeted towards these larger initiatives for the past few years and the smaller programs have been left to fend on their own. Many to close their doors. Its time to shift the funding to programs that have a pulse on the needs of their communities, which many serve the most at promise (high risk) youth.

Submitted By: neil wollman Submitted: 5/15/2014
My Brother’s Keeper: The Vital Role of Prevention Science We were pleased to hear about the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative. It addresses a very significant need in society. As President Obama indicated, young men of color are particularly at risk for a wide variety of problems. There are many factors that influence the statistics, primary of which is their high rate of poverty, harsher living conditions, institutional racism, stressful family dynamics and lack of opportunities. The consequences for the nation are substantial. Economist Ted Miller estimated the cost of the most common problems for all youth, such as violence, drug abuse, high-risk sexual behavior, poor academic achievement, high school dropouts and suicide attempts, total about $462 billion annually. The success of this Initiative would significantly increase the proportion of young people who arrive at adulthood with the skills, interests, and values they need to be successful. And in turn, we can expect to achieve a substantial reduction in both the human and financial burden to the nation. However, many initiatives of this sort have failed because they did not make use of tested and effective strategies or the empirical tools for evaluating and improving those strategies. A successful effort will require the systematic application of well-established, evidence-based principles and practices generated by the prevention sciences. These lessons learned are applicable to all populations at risk for poor outcomes; however, given the focus of this initiative, we attest they should be followed for this effort as well to improve chances for success in young men of color. It is important first to understand that these diverse problems are inter-related and stem from the same set of adverse conditions, all of which are more prevalent in high poverty neighborhoods. More than 20% of children are being raised in poverty in this country and the rates for African American children are higher (38.2%), as are those for Hispanic children (32.3%). Caregivers and their children in these communities experience a lack of resources ranging from low household wages and unemployment, to poorly equipped schools, to inaccessible health care services. Research indicates that poverty – and for people of color, also racism – increases stress, which contributes to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other diseases. For families, the high levels of stress among caregivers often leads to increased experiences of conflict, threat, dysfunction and deprivation for their children, and less reserve to foster healthy childhood development. Indeed chronic exposure to stress rewires people’s physiology in ways that make them hyper-vigilant to threat, more likely to perceive hostile intent in others, and more likely to react aggressively or to become depressed. The result of experiencing these conditions early in life is that children are less likely to develop adequate self-regulation skills. The aggressive and off-task behavior that often emerges in these children as they enter adolescence is associated with academic failure, peer rejection, affiliation with other troubled kids and family problems. By adulthood, the skills for success are not in place. While all of this is true for every child experiencing adversity, youth of color often also face daily incidents in which they are subtly and not-so subtly treated in demeaning, hostile, and even lethal ways. President Obama has spoken eloquently about this in his remarks about the Trayvon Martin murder. And the long history of racist acts that Isabel Wilkerson describes in The Warmth of Other Suns makes it clear the African American community, in particular, lives with a legacy of oppression. A successful effort will require the systematic application of well-established, evidence-based principles and practices generated by the prevention sciences. Indeed, the 2009 Institute of Medicine report on prevention concluded that we know enough “to begin to create a society in which young people arrive at adulthood with the skills, interests, assets, and health habits needed to live healthy, happy, and productive lives in caring relationships with others.” These programs work by rallying caregivers and teachers around their values and goals for their children and helping them to hone their skills to nurture their children’s development. Caregivers and teachers learn to replace harsh and inconsistent discipline techniques with mild, consistent effective ones. And perhaps more importantly, they learn to richly reinforce their children’s developing skills, interests, and values. A few examples of evidence-based programs that have been provided to children and families of color include the Nurse Family Partnership, the Family Check Up, and the Good Behavior Game, a universal school-based program. There is strong documentation of their beneficial effects and cost-savings; they and others have promise to increase children’s chances for success in school, their communities, and in life. In the interest of young men of color and, in fact, all children and adolescents, we need to build a world class national prevention system. The IOM’s report on prevention identified science-based interventions and policies that are capable of preventing the development of virtually the entire range of psychological problems that hamper the development of children and adolescents who are at risk due to poverty and other adverse social and environmental conditions. Some of these programs have been implemented already across the country, but only on a piecemeal basis; they need to be institutionalized. A comprehensive and effective prevention system [see attachment] would have five facets: (a) An effective and nurturing system of family supports; (b) Effective positive behavioral supports in all schools; (c) A set of well-tested and proven prevention programs and policies; (d) Ongoing public education about prevention and accurate information about mental and behavioral health, including violence and drug abuse; and (e) A system for monitoring the wellbeing of children and adolescents. Such a system should be built in stages with careful attention to the effective implementation of evidence-based interventions. It might begin by concentrating resources in a small number of high poverty communities, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone and also other “Promise Neighborhoods” which are currently being supported by another Presidential initiative. The impact of the effort should be carefully evaluated—not because “more research is needed” (though it is) —but because rigorous evaluation should routinely be built into every social program for continuous improvement, to amass evidence of the program’s effects, and for citizens to judge the benefits of these efforts. The U.S. can significantly improve the success of young men of color through coordination between all child-serving and health agencies and organizations to make use of the strong science-base that decades of prevention research has produced. It is a significant undertaking that requires several years of concerted effort. But if we can unite everyone around a common understanding of what is needed, we can build a system that equalizes the playing field for all children to have the opportunity to lead happy, healthy and successful lives to a degree never before seen in human history. The newly formed Prevention Coalition for Promoting Healthy Child and Adolescent Development strives to improve the health and wellbeing of children, adolescents, families and communities by (1) promoting a science-driven approach to preventing risks and disadvantages; (2) building bridges between researchers and child/adolescent-serving organizations, advocacy groups and influencers of public policy and media; and (3) working with government to adopt a “prevention model” that would reduce costs while benefitting society. We stand with and are ready to work with My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and partnering philanthropic and business sectors. ===================================================================================== Anthony Biglan, Ph.D., Oregon Research Institute, Coauthor of the IOM Report on Prevention and Former President of the Society for Prevention Science Diana Fishbein, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Translational Research on Adversity, Neurodevelopment and Substance abuse, University of Maryland School of Medicine Neil Wollman, Ph.D., Chair of the “Prevention Project” and Organized Two Congressional Briefings on this topic, from Bentley University Address correspondence to Neil Wollman; Senior Fellow, Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility; Bentley University; Waltham, MA, 02452; [email protected]; Prevention Project Web

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