By Christi Parsons
WASHINGTON – President Obama plans to launch an initiative aimed at improving the lives of young black and Latino men by bringing businesses and foundations together with government agencies to change what an administration official called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The initiative, which Obama calls “My Brother’s Keeper,” is to be unveiled Thursday, the official said. It will mark the latest in a series of efforts by the president to spur social change outside the stalemated legislative process.
The move also represents an escalation of Obama’s efforts to directly target the problems faced by young men of color.
During the last five years, Obama has met privately with groups of minority teenagers and young men in their communities and at the White House. But in his State of the Union speech, Obama pledged to go further, saying he would bring more of his resources as president to bear on the social problems that get in the way of success for minority youth.
“I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential,” he said.
Thursday’s White House announcement is aimed at fulfilling that pledge, the administration official said.
Some parts of the campaign likely will involve identifying and changing government policies that create undue barriers to opportunity.
The official pointed to recent guidelines that the Departments of Education and Justice sent to school districts that were designed to prompt changing ”zero tolerance” school discipline policies as an example of the kinds of actions that might be involved. Zero-tolerance policies aimed at potentially disruptive behavior have in many cases had disproportionately harsh impacts on minority students, particularly boys, the two departments noted.
But much of the initiative is expected to focus on private-sector activities, with the White House working as a catalyst.
Obama is expected to appear with other prominent men of color to talk about how businesses and foundations can work together on community-centered initiatives to help children come to school ready to learn and to keep them away from criminal activity.
The new campaign is meant to build a range of programs boosting everything from literacy and early learning to efforts at helping young men find jobs and career opportunities, the administration official said.
The president is expected to announce corporate donations for the campaign, along with a new government effort to focus federal resources on solving problems facing boys and young men of color.
Republican elected officials, faith leaders and corporate executives are among those who have been working on this project for the last several months, aides said.
Several young men and boys will be present for the event, among them participants of the Chicago-based group “Becoming a Man,” a support group for teens that the president visited on a trip to Chicago last year.