Letter from President Obama
Letter from David Simas, CEO
The Obama Presidential Center
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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
Community Leadership Corps
My Brother's Keeper Alliance
Girls Opportunity Alliance
A Human Network
Our Board of Directors
My Brother's Keeper Alliance
FROM MANTRA TO MOVEMENT
Five years ago, in the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, President Obama called on Americans to recognize that we all have a stake in the success of our nation’s boys and young men of color. America could never live up to its potential or its ideals unless all its children had an opportunity to thrive. We are all our brother’s keeper.
Today, that mantra has become a movement—an Alliance of nearly 250 MBK Communities led by mayors and elected officials, tribal leaders, nonprofit heads, and private sector partners, all dedicated to breaking down the barriers that too often leave boys and young men of color at a disadvantage and clearing pathways that can lead them to opportunity.
In 2018, that work was centered around the voices of the young men themselves. We hosted online town halls led by young men sitting side-by-side with leading changemakers, whether it was Common speaking about criminal justice reform, Arne Duncan discussing violence prevention efforts in Chicago, or Dr. Sybrina Fulton discussing the legacy of her son, Trayvon Martin.
It was also a year of focus, with the Alliance choosing to prioritize where we could have the greatest impact, starting with the recognition that change starts and ends with communities. We decided to focus on place—identifying diverse cities, towns, and tribal nations that are devoted to our shared mission. We then chose two challenges to be the focus of our time and resources: reducing youth violence while providing a second chance, as well as ensuring all youth have access to caring adults and mentors that can help them navigate the path to success.
A group of students assemble a teepee at the NACA Inspired Schools Network in Albuquerque, an MBK Alliance National Impact Community.
Young people attend a training at Sierra Health Facilities in Sacramento, California, another MBK Alliance National Impact Community.
With that focus in mind, we launched a national competition to identify and invest in communities and community-based organizations that are measurably improving the lives of their boys and young men, either by making communities safer or helping young men thrive. After conducting a nationwide search, we selected 19 organizations in 15 communities throughout the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Through our investment, we are helping scale effective programs to reach more young people in need, while also working with communities to identify and address systemic barriers that impede opportunity. We also wanted to highlight these organizations as national models that are making steady progress and have the potential to be proof points for what it takes to substantially improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color.
Identifying these communities and lifting up the leaders within them was a big part of 2018. But we didn’t want to stop there. We wanted to bring them together.
Arrive as Many, Rise as One
It was a moment five years in the making. In February of 2019, the MBK Alliance brought together hundreds of young men of color, along with the community leaders who serve them, in Oakland, California. MBK Rising! was the first meeting of the movement since the MBK Alliance became part of the Obama Foundation. It was a time to mark progress. To surface lessons that could guide the future of the movement. But most importantly, it was an epic celebration of our boys and young men of color
MBK Rising! was as much a revival as it was a convening—a chance to honor and encourage those engaged in this difficult but life-changing work. The event kicked off with a day of service, as attendees fanned out across the Bay Area to plant community gardens, organize books at libraries, paint murals, and clean up schools and classrooms.
The following day, several separate leadership tracks for young people, philanthropic and corporate leaders, elected officials, and community-based leaders came together with local guests for our first Main Stage session. It began with a native blessing and performance before John Legend held a powerful conversation with three icons of determination: Dr. Sybrina Fulton, Reverend Wanda Johnson, and Congresswoman Lucy McBath. All three had lost sons in tragic killings; all three have turned that loss into inspirational action, leading campaigns against gun violence and police misconduct.
Then it was time for President Obama to take the stage. Surrounded by the young men of the My Brother’s Keeper movement, President Obama and Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors held a wide-ranging conversation about the challenges they faced as young men and the lessons they learned as they matured.
The President answered questions from the audience and discussed the importance of modeling a more compassionate, more socially responsible, bigger-hearted version of masculinity. He talked about the importance of fighting against the systemic barriers that limit opportunity for young men of color. And, he even weighed in on Kendrick versus Drake.
We then fanned out over Oakland, with nearly 1,000 participants dining and talking at locally-owned restaurants, followed by a youth-only after party
The final day of the convening was no less stirring, as a gospel choir and grammy-award winning musician Fantastic Negrito kicked off the day, and attention shifted to the community leaders on the front lines of the My Brother’s Keeper movement. Activist Shaka Senghor talked about his journey from serving 19 years in prison to becoming a best-selling author, mentor, and activist for criminal justice reform. Community leaders from across the country spoke about innovative practices in violence prevention and mentorship and the significant impact those efforts have had on the lives of young men of color. Activists Alicia Garza and Ericka Huggins and Mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms and Aja Brown took the stage with other sisters of the movement to discuss the responsibility boys and young men have to girls, young women, and the LGBTQ+ community, and the need to push back against toxic masculinity. And Oakland’s own Ryan Coogler took the stage with frequent collaborator, Michael B. Jordan, to talk about the need for a new narrative and art that honors communities of color.
The event began the way it started: with the voices of the young men My Brother’s Keeper was established to serve. Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown sat down for an emotional and vulnerable conversation with four young men of color, discussing their journey to adulthood as they overcame obstacles, and advice they have for leaders to make a real and lasting difference.
What MBK Rising! demonstrated most was that across America, a generation of young men is aching to fulfill its promise. The question is whether we as a society will help clear the barriers standing in front of them.
Through My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and MBK Rising!, the Obama Foundation is investing in the organizations, the initiatives, and the leaders who are ensuring our boys and young men of color have a clear path toward opportunity.
Actress and advocate Mj Rodriguez speaks at a panel at MBK Rising!
Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown leads a conversation with young men of color on stage at the event.
Portraits of Change
Amidst the steady buzz of activity and energy at MBK Rising!, time stood still for a moment. A few attendees stepped into our portrait studio so that we could capture their photo and hear how they were building a brighter future for their communities. If there was one thing that united their stories, it was the sustaining joy they felt as they pursued this work.
SENECA NATION, NEW YORK
“Giving back is so important to me. I work hard every day for those who came before me and for those who will come after me. We need to be the change we want to see in our own communities, so I strive to be an example of resilience, dedication, and service to younger generations.”
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
“I am bettering my community for boys and young men of color by providing a sense of fun, unity, and love through the work I do. Whether I’m helping at a community engagement event, or providing services to those in need, or just simply going to a high school to speak with students about their day, I try to incorporate those three things.”
“I better my community for the boys that look just like me by changing the narrative around violence, masculinity, and professionalism. I refuse to succumb to the stereotypes that too often imprison us to a single story; instead I show young men of color that we can be whoever we want to be.”
Little Village, Big Impact
Walk through the Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side and you’ll see colorful murals, cute storefronts, and carts selling champurrado and paletas —traditional Mexican hot chocolate and fruity ice cream bars. But this vibrant four-square-mile neighborhood with over 50,000 young people also faces challenges, including unemployment and violence.
New Life Centers of Chicagoland was founded in 2005 to help young people in the neighborhood address these challenges. New Life targets young people between the ages of 12 and 24 who are most likely to be affected by violence or become involved with the criminal justice system, and provides them with mentoring and coaching opportunities, violence mediation, and street-based counseling.
Violence interrupters like Benjamin Estrada, Director of Street Outreach, travel to hot spots to preempt conflicts, interact directly with young people, and show them they’re cared for. “It takes a lot of persistence,” he said. “It takes a lot of love.”
But his work and the work of New Life is having a real impact: Between 2016-2017, shootings decreased by 14 percent in Little Village and homicides fell by a staggering 61 percent.
As an MBK Alliance Seed Community, New Life Centers will receive $50,000 in funding to aid the implementation of their work, along with technical support. And they will serve as a model for other organizations working on behalf of boys and young men of color across the nation.
Benjamin Estrada is the Director of Street Outreach at New Life Centers of Chicagoland, a MBK Alliance Seed Community
The Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side.