President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to improve opportunities for boys and men of color is in step with our times.
Three years ago, I sat with George Soros and an eclectic group of black leaders in a small New York hotel room, courtesy of Shawn Dove of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Soros explained why being a Hungarian Jew who lived through the Holocaust helps him to see dangerous patterns that threaten democratic society.
Over the past five years, Soros has pledged about $80 million of his money to support a healthier America by helping black males out of the dangerous patterns that threaten them. In August 2011, his friend Michael Bloomberg announced a similar $127 million public-private initiative in New York, which included $30 million from Soros.
Bloomberg and Soros were the boldest but certainly not the only philanthropists to take this position. In April 2013, five foundation leaders convened their peers on this subject: Bob Ross, president of The California Endowment; Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations; Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Emmett Carson, president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. By the end of the day more than two dozen foundation heads had signed a pledge to create more opportunities for boys and men of color.
These leaders, who are fiercely independent, all agree that America is better off when more boys and men of color are able to fully participate in society. That’s a historic decision, and it marks a potential turning point. These commitments are a first for philanthropy and a first for a U.S. president.
Even though Jim Crow-style laws still sit on the books and legacy media still parade negative images of black and brown males through our minds constantly, their days are numbered. There are simply too many black and brown men and their friends of all races and genders — patriots, students, entrepreneurs and donors — who are in positions of influence and see boys and men of color as assets to society. Here are examples of what I mean:
1. Patriotic : Twenty-five percent of black men in America are already military veterans. No other group serves their country in as high a proportion.
2. Aspiring: More than 2 million black men have at least one college degree, and about 1.4 million are in college now.
3. Enterprising: The percentage of black people who create businesses is growing at more than twice the national average, and 60 percent of those entrepreneurs are black men.
4. Generous : Black households give 25 percent more of their income to charities than do white households.
Patriotic, aspiring, enterprising and generous are everyday attributes of black males. We all actually know and experience black men in the categories above. That’s reality. I founded BMe Community because I believe we can have more caring and prosperous communities inspired by black men.
But to do that, we must appreciate them as assets, engage them and their friends on the values we have in common and endeavor to “build” together rather than to “fix” each other.
Trabian Shorters is the founder of BMe Community, a social enterprise headquartered in Miami that works to “build caring and prosperous communities, inspired by black men.”