At a time when many young black boys and men feel like their lives don't matter, some community leaders and students in the Bronx said the launch of President Barack Obama's new nonprofit sent a clear message that they do.
My Brother's Keeper Alliance, which is comprised of CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, high-profile entertainers and government officials, aims to improve opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color, the president announced Monday.
Dahmeek Cox, 14, who was among numerous students lucky enough to witness Obama's announcement at Lehman College, said it's just what young boys like him need.
"We're basically put at a disadvantage to start with," said Cox, pointing out that coming from an underserved Harlem neighborhood adds to the challenges that he faces daily.
"It was interesting to hear [the president] talk about how having mentors and people to look after you helps you succeed," the 9th-grader at Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy II added.
The formation of the nonprofit comes more than a year after Obama launched the My Brother's Keeper initiative, which was sparked by the black lives matter movement that has hosted marches and rallies across the country. And it comes a week after Baltimore erupted in riots following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody.
You had the leader of the free world come to the Bronx to say 'You matter,' and not just say it, but show it.
"It’s an idea that we pursued in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death because we wanted the message sent from the White House in a sustained way that his life mattered, that the lives of the young men who are here today matter, that we care about your future—not just sometimes, but all the time," Obama said of the initiative.
Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake, who got a "shout out" from the president at the start of the Monday’s announcement, called it "a transformational day for boys and young men of color."
"You had the leader of the free world come to the Bronx to say 'You matter,' and not just say it, but show it. You never would have thought a president would come here and demonstrate that you matter," said Blake, a Bronx native. "For the kids that are looking around the country, and they're seeing on TV - from Freddie Gray to Trayvon Martin to Mike Brown to Eric Garner to Tamir Rice - all the different visuals that show that you don't, this is showing that you do."
Joseph Fordyce Jr., a junior at Lehman College who is part of the school's Urban Male Leadership Program, also praised the president for launching the nonprofit.
"I'm definitely honored that this president is taking a stand to make sure that black and latino men will have a place in this world," said the 22-year-old, who greeted Obama upon his arrival on campus. "I think he's so dedicated to the cause because he's had experiences similar to our experiences."
More than 200 communities across the country are already "on board and they're doing great work," Obama said. "They're sharing best practices. They're sharing ideas."
Among those communities is Newark, New Jersey, which has been working to better relations between citizens and police. In July, the U.S. Department of Justice called for a federal monitor of the Newark police department because it found the police were violating the rights of black citizens.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who took office in July, called the alliance "totally necessary."
"We look forward to engaging the alliance and helping young African-American and latino men move through their communities and navigate the difficulties that they have to be able to become successful," Baraka said.
"This lets [young people] know that not only does the president care, but he's trying to marshal some resources to make sure that they have the support that's necessary to be able to move forward in their lives," said the mayor of New Jersey's largest city.
"It lets us know that his commitment to seeing black and brown boys do well goes well beyond his presidency. When he leaves office, this is what's going to continue behind him and it's great. It's what we need."