President Barack Obama announced a new-non profit foundation designed to serve as an offshoot of his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative on Monday — a move that signals the type of work the president might become involved in after he leaves the Oval Office.
In a speech that addressed the unrest in Baltimore and the systemic issues faced by low-income communities across the country, the president said the new organization, called My Brother's Keeper Alliance, was designed to "do more than a field report that nobody would read."
The alliance, the president said, is designed to enlist the private sector in helping address the academic achievement gap between minorities boys and their peers as well as the school-to prison pipeline in which young black and Latino boys are disproportionately expelled and giver harsher sentences as juveniles.
"There are consequences to inaction ... they sap of us of our strength as a nation. It means we’re not as good as we could be," the president said from the campus of Lehman College, a school with a diverse population in The Bronx, New York.
During a round-table discussion earlier in the day with students, the president said he got a chance to listen to the young men's tales of "hard work and street smarts". Obama said he could relate to their experiences.
"Stories of young men being stopped and put on the ground by police for no reason, schools who aren't invested in their success," the president said, listing the obstacles the kids have to face. But, he noted, "They are succeeding because somewhere along the way someone mentored them."
The president’s announcement comes one week after violent riots in Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Gray, 25, whose spine was injured during an encounter with police. Six police officers are now facing criminal charges and the Department of Justice is investigating the matter as well.
The White House first created My Brother's Keeper in 2014 in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed, Florida teen by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. The shooting prompted the president to offer candid remarks at the time about the nation’s racial tensions saying: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
The aim of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, according to the administration, was to address the opportunity gaps that exist for young men and boys of color.
The efforts have met with mixed results.
There has been progress since the initiative was created, Broderick Johnson, a Baltimore native and chairman of the “My Brother's Keeper Task Force" told members of the media in an email: "Yet persistent gaps in employment, educational outcomes, and career skills remain, barring too many youth from realizing their full potential, and creating harmful social and economic costs to our nation."
Frustrations over those gaps were an undercurrent of the unrest in Baltimore.
The protests and rallies following fatal encounters between black men and police have also helped give birth to a new type of civil rights movement, African American studies and political science experts say.
African American millennials in particular have been at the forefront rallies following the deaths of Martin and Michael Brown, a black teen who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri last August. Young adults have leveraged used social media to get the word out about the incidents and organize rallies across the nation.
During the president’s second term and under the leadership of former Attorney General Eric Holder, the White House sought to help quell racial tension between minority communities and law enforcement. Those efforts — at times — led to tension between the nation's law enforcement officers and Holder, said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director and president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.
The alliance will include members of Hollywood, sport stars, business leaders and government figures. Singer John Legend, NBA legend Alonzo Mourning, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, and Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker are among the alliance's members.
The president said he will continue this type of work even after leaving the White House.
"This will remain a mission for me and Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency but the rest of my life," the president said.