A Message from Joe Echevarria, MBK Alliance Board Chair

echevarria_joeI believe America is the greatest country on earth because of “The American Dream.” This belief that with hard work and the freedom to pursue your destiny, you can achieve success and provide better opportunities for you and your children. While we work to attain and live the “American Dream” do we ever take the time to wonder if the disadvantages that some in our society face – whether that is skin color, zip code, family status or other – make it difficult or even possible to achieve this Dream?

As a young Hispanic inner-city kid from the South Bronx growing up in a single-parent home, I faced a tougher struggle than some. But who would have imagined, that a kid from the South Bronx could go from working at a gas station for minimum wage to getting hired as an auditor at Haskins & Sells to being the CEO of Deloitte LLP – that’s called the American Dream. But this journey wasn’t overnight. The road wasn’t easy. From birth through adulthood, from cradle-to-career, boys and young men of color just like me face an enduring challenge of circumstance. The consequence is that—without substantial, comprehensive, and sustained intervention—America’s promising youth, youth who look like me, will continue to suffer disproportionately from social stagnation.

In such a climate, where the “land of opportunity” appears, for some, limited in scope and in need of revival, how do we help break the endemic disparities facing America’s boys and young men of color and transform the lives of a neglected and growing segment of our population? How do we make the American dream possible for all of our children and by doing so, lift up our society and our economy with the collective impact of our successes?

When President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative just over a year ago, it felt like a very personal initiative for me. The MBK Community Challenge proved to be successful and produced many positive outcomes. More than 60 superintendents of our country’s largest urban school districts pledged to develop new strategies to help meet the objectives of MBK. Nearly 200 mayors, tribal leaders, and county executives — from 48 states and Washington, D.C. — accepted the MBK Community Challenge and committed to help improve life outcomes for young people at the local level. Moreover, more than $104 million was given from public and private groups to help support efforts.

While serving as the Co-Chair of the National Convening Council along with Earvin Magic Johnson, it was clear that in order to change the narrative of boys and young men of color, we would need to do more. It would require a whole host of creative and effective solutions. A new and innovative way of thinking. Aligned action. Demonstrating what works. Place-based change. New capital and non-monetary commitments. Reflecting on and inspired by the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative – My Brother’s Keeper Alliance was born. Born out of an understanding about the urgent issues facing both boys and young men of color and their surrounding environment, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance vision is to make the American Dream available to all boys and young men of color by eliminating the gaps in their opportunities and outcomes. Driven by mission – we intend to unite leaders across sectors, mobilize resources, and provide infrastructure support for a national movement to improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color.

My personal version of the American Dream demonstrates the unparalleled capacity that the business community has to expand opportunity, foster responsibility, and improve the life outcomes of young people, regardless of the color of their skin or where they were born. Securing equal opportunities for all populations, including boys and young men of color, is foundational for all businesses and for our nation’s progress. By supporting boys and young men of color, businesses can: build their brand, diversify their talent pool, and improve their recruiting and retention strategies. By providing more and better opportunities for all our youth, we can have a significant positive impact on our economy – by developing a more robust, diverse and educated talent pipeline trained with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace of the future.

African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans make up 30% of the population but comprise only 3% of senior leaders in corporations, nonprofits, and entrepreneurial ventures. Numbers don’t lie – if we as a country closed the achievement gap between White and African American and Hispanic youth – the annual GDP could increase as much as $525 billion. Creating additional employment opportunities for boys and young men of color will lessen racial income disparities, which, if closed, could boost GDP by $2.1 trillion.

Imagine a country where all of this is possible. A country where all youth are given an equal shot–a fighting chance. It’s time to take the blinders off, roll up our sleeves, and do the work. In a time when young men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and most recently, Freddie Gray, have become household names for tragic reasons, we need to raise up youth like  Dakhota Brown, Taj Atkinson, Malachi Hernandez, and the countless other boys and men of color that are turning their adversity into advantage. These young men are choosing to leave an impact in a way that brings pride – not pain. They are living and leading with character and integrity. These youth are the American Dream and we owe it to them to give them the best shot at achieving it.