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President Obama Asks for Support of Black Male Initiative, California Endowment Answers Call

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The foundation’s $50 Million program to boost “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in California, leading other organizations with the largest contribution so far

By Corey Arvin
Staff Writer

President Obama’s announcement last week of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, a nationwide effort to reach young minority men, was almost instantly buoyed with pledged alliances from several non-profit organizations and foundations.

California Endowment, a private foundation that develops and funds healthy-living programs, announced it would partner its $50 million “Son’s & Brothers” campaign with the president’s initiative aimed at young African-American and Hispanic men. California Endowment’s pledge is among the most substantial donations from non-profit organizations that support the president’s initiative.

Currently, more than $200 million in funding from various partners has been pledged. Although California Endowment’s $50 Million commitment appears substantial, Robert K. Ross, president and chief executive officer of California Endowment, cautioned it’s only a “drop in the bucket” considering the depth of the issues facing young African-Americans.

“We are hoping that $50 million has a leveraging effect and a catalytic impact because $50 million is not enough,” said Ross.

Though California Endowment’s announcement coincided with the unveiling of President Obama’s initiative, the organization has worked with White House officials since October on developing a strategic plan to reach young minority men, said Ross. The organization unveiled its “Sons & Brothers” campaign that same month, which is an essential part of its “Building Healthy Communities” initiative.

Ross credited the California Community Foundation’s “BLOOM” program and Liberty Hill Foundation’s “Brother’s, Sons, Selves” coalition for supporting California Endowment’s initiative.

“We are 3 years into a 10-year statewide healthy community strategy. We have 14 underserved communities we selected to do healthy youth development work and we have been hearing from leaders in a number of those communities from South L.A. to Boyle Heights to Richmond and East Oakland, that there are very strong concerns about our young black and brown men being left behind … stigmatized and marginalized by systems in those communities. So there was a very clear call from community leaders and grassroots leaders for focusing more attention on black and brown [children],” he said.

Ross’ journey into exploring the plight of young African-American men began in the summer of 2012 when he embarked on a 3-month study, speaking with blacks throughout the U.S. to foster a broader understanding of where issues for young black men begin from the perspectives of other African-Americans.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), an avid supporter of the president’s initiative, praised California Endowment’s commitment to support “My Brother’s Keeper”, which will also impact young men who live in her district. Bass was among several elected officials who joined the president in support of his announcement last week at the White House.

“Let me applaud Dr. Ross’ leadership ... and I mean that sincerely. I am very confident what the California Endowment committed to do will happen,” she said.

Bass, who is partnering with leaders and organizations within her community, is hoping her efforts to align resources for black men recently released from prison will have its own impact on young African-American men in need of stable fathers and mentors. This month, Bass will host a townhall meeting to address black men re-entering society after serving prison sentences.

Both Bass and Ross agreed fatherhood in African-American homes is a critical factor in why some young African-American men encounter issues such as poor academic achievement and engage in illegal activity.

“There is so much collateral damage in my opinion over incarceration,” she said. “If they cannot work in the legal economy, they will work in the illegal economy,” she added.

While “My Brother’s Keeper” is largely supported and regarded as a long-overdue national platform dedicated to African-American men, the initiative has garnered many detractors, with some also labeling the initiative as “racist”.

Bass noted criticism of the president’s initiative from conservatives, as well as some liberals who feel the initiative is “too little, too late.”

Leon Jenkins, president of the NAACP’s Los Angeles branch, considered criticism of the initiative another attempt by conservatives to stymie progress in the African-American community. He adamantly believes any left-leaning leadership that supports conservative opposition or criticism of the “My Brother’s Keeper” is misguided.

Responding to critics of the initiative, Jenkins said, “They are not going to ever, ever do anything to help African-Americans. These are the same people who didn't want us vote, don't want to pay us a fair wage for work, don’t want us to go to college. They want to keep the status quo.”

According to Jenkins, the NAACP’s Los Angeles branch frequently partners with organizations that target young African-Americans through their own programs, including Brotherhood Crusade, the Los Angeles Urban League and several smaller organizations. Jenkins supports the California Endowment’s program and hopes it galvanizes communities and bolsters the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

“We have to have our fists balled up until the fight is over. That will mean that at times we will want to give up, we will want to take a break, but the bottom line is, we can't afford to,” he said.

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