WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama’s key signature program for at-risk young men of color — spun off from his White House in 2015 as a nonprofit group, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance — will merge with his Obama Foundation, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Last Dec. 14, at the final My Brother’s Keeper event Obama would take part in as president, he said, “This is something I will be invested in for the rest of my life, and I look forward to continuing the journey with you.”
This next chapter for MBK, as it is known, comes as the foundation is pushing forward with programs — Germany, in May; Indonesia in June with more to come, including fellowships — at the same time as the foundation is developing final design plans to construct the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
The merger and the mission make sense for the foundation, headquartered in Hyde Park.
As Obama evolves in structuring his post presidency, it is logical to fold MBK into the Obama Foundation rather than have it out there competing for Obama time, donors and partner organizations.
There already is a bit of overlap.
Michael Smith, who ran the MBK initiative in the Obama White House, is the acting executive director of the MBK Alliance and works on Youth Opportunity Programs for the Obama Foundation.
The MBK Alliance board members include John Rogers, the chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, who is also on the Obama Foundation board, and Arne Duncan, Obama’s former Education secretary who last week was tapped to be the co-chair of the new, unnamed development organization created to leverage the economic impact of the Obama Center for its surrounding neighborhoods.
As Chicago grapples with crime, Duncan, a managing partner at the Emerson Collective, is focusing on gun violence issues and helping at-risk youths in Chicago — through a program called Chicago CRED — Create Real Economic Destiny, an independent affiliate of Emerson.
Last April 23, Obama, joining with Duncan, met with young men in the CRED program in the Roseland/Pullman neighborhood, not far from where Obama started his career as a community organizer.
My Brother’s Keeper has distinct Chicago roots.
The timeline tells the story of how Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, in office — and continuing in his post-presidency — is trying to help young men of color overcome the disproportionate share of obstacles they face.
• On Feb. 15, 2013, then-President Obama visited Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island, to meet with male students, all of color, in need of some help to stay out of trouble. They were participants in a program called “Becoming a Man,” in some ways a precursor to My Brother’s Keeper.
• On Feb. 27, 2014, Obama launched his White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. Christian Champagne, one of the Hyde Park students Obama had met with in 2013, introduced him that day. Champagne is now a junior at Western Illinois University.
Obama recalled on that day in 2014 sitting in a circle with the young men at Hyde Park and listening to their stories. “And the point was I could see myself in these young men. And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe.”
“We don’t need to stereotype and pretend that there’s only dysfunction out there. But 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America’s children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure, and is worse for boys and young men.”
• On May 4, 2015, Obama, at Lehman College in the Bronx, announced the creation of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, bolstered with millions of dollars in pledges from major corporations.
“This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life,” he said.