Two years ago, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper challenge, with the goal of expanding opportunities for a group that is far too often left behind in this country — boys and young men of color. The President and his team have reached out to cities across the country, to find people committed to ensuring all Americans have access to the opportunity to succeed.
And cities across Ohio have risen to the challenge.
Last fall, the White House’s Broderick Johnson, Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, came to Ohio, and he and I met with mentors and students in Dayton and Columbus, along with the city officials and community partners who are making these programs possible. And last week, Mr. Johnson was back in our state — we both joined community leaders and activists to help launch My Brother’s Keeper programs in Cleveland and Akron.
The challenge has six goals — ensuring that all children are ready to enter school; that they are able to read at grade-level by the 3rd grade; that they graduate from high school; that they complete some kind of post-secondary education or career training; that following that, they are able to get good jobs; and that throughout their lives, our children remain safe from violent crime.
These goals are critical for all of our children, but we know that too often we fall behind, particularly when it comes to making sure that boys of color have the opportunity succeed.
That’s why mentors like the ones we have met in Dayton, Columbus, Akron, and Cleveland so important. At one of the roundtables we held with participants in the Dayton program, one middle schooler, James, was at first too shy to speak. Finally, after seeing the other boys speak up, James raised his hand. He talked about wanting to make good grades, wanting to help others, and, most of all, wanting to “stay normal.”
Think about what this child’s life must be like, that his greatest wish was just to have a normal childhood. That’s why My Brother’s Keeper matters.
Mentors can provide a steady influence in the lives of children for whom living a stable life is a daily struggle. They can help them stay focused in school, set a positive example, and provide care and support that these kids may not be getting anywhere else.
Frederick Douglass said, it is “easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” We need a strategy to allow all our children to reach their full potential — not one that accepts that some children will grow up with limited options.
It’s up to all of us to ensure that all our children — regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin — have the opportunity to succeed. And I hope more cities across our state will accept the My Brother’s Keeper Challenge, and work toward that goal.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.
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