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A Systems Perspective to ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Imagine if the Emancipation Proclamation read like this:

“That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all black men held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such men and will do no act or acts to repress such men, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

Or if section 2 Voting Rights Act of 1965 read like the following:

“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any man of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Imagine if the 24-hour news cycle existed when Lincoln and Johnson made these announcements? Imagine if Lincoln had a class of black slaves standing behind when he made the announcement in the name of racial justice? Imagine if at the signing of the Voting Rights Act President Johnson whispered to Rosa Parks who was standing arms length away from Dr. King that, “Don’t worry, black women will get the right to vote very soon. You’ve got next.”

That language hasn’t worked for the WNBA and it will not work in the public-private partnership otherwise known as the My Brothers Keeper initiative. The conditions of poor boys of color in this country are indeed disheartening. We rank high in all of the bad socioeconomic categories.

However, according to Pedro Noguera, “The need to act on the problems confronting black and Latino males is apparent, but no research supports the notion that separating young men is the best way to meet their academic and social needs.”

We cannot expect to lift up our marginalized communities by raising up one segment of the community.

In a joint letter that was sent to the President and signed by over 200 black men across the country, including yours truly, we petitioned, “We are not suggesting a national moratorium on Black male-oriented projects. But our sense of accountability does reflect the fact that our historic struggle for racial justice has always included men as well as women who have risked everything not just for themselves or for their own gender but for the prospects of the entire community.”

Right here in Brownsville’s Mott Hall Bridges Academy, Principal Nadia Lopez has implemented initiatives to address the issues facing all of her students in a gender equity framework. While she has organizing My Brother’s Keeper programs since 2011, she has also She Is Me. Principal Lopez has been able to articulate that boys and girls of her school community are in need of support, while acknowledging that boys and girls experience systemic oppression differently.

Principal Lopez’ work in Brownsville illustrates that she is aware Black women are the fastest growing segment of the already skyrocketing prison population. Black and Latina women are suspended from school more than women of other demographics. They are murdered more than women of other demographics. They are unemployed at higher rates than women of other races. They are struggling at the margins just like us boys and men.

While we applaud the President for understanding the importance of taking a racial justice lens, we feel the need to push him a bit further. We are pushing him to see us ALL and not just some of us. We need any initiative that is framed in a civil rights framework to focus on everyone—through a systems perspective. Just imagine if we thought it made sense to topple the system of slavery by freeing the enslaved men first…

To read the complete letter to the President and see how you can sign on to the petition visit the African American Policy Forum website at

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