With 'My Brother's Keeper,' President Obama looks beyond the White House

The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to help young black and Hispanic men that President Obama will unveil on Thursday is a project he will continue even after he leaves office, administration officials say.

Until now, Obama has said little about his post-presidency plans. But White House officials say the president recognizes that the persistent underachievement of black and Hispanic men is not a problem that will be solved quickly and that reducing inequality for disadvantaged people was one of the main causes of Obama’s life even before he entered politics and will remain so after he leaves the Oval Office.

This work is  “a moral, social responsibility that they feel will transcend the time that he is president,” said Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s top advisers, referring to both the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

On Thursday, the president will formally announce the initiative, which has two parts. The first is Obama ordering all federal agencies to look at what ways they can help support men of color. Administration officials said they are looking for policies similar to the recent advisory guidelines the Department of Education wrote and sent to states on reducing school suspensions. Black students in particular are disproportionately expelled from school, and the Obama administration believes that providing school districts and states some of the best practices to avoid suspensions will keep black boys and men in school and therefore improve their learning.

Just as importantly, conducting a study and providing advice to states costs few federal dollars, as the administration does not intend to ask Congress for much funding to support “My Brother’s Keeper.”

The second part of the initiative is a partnership with foundations and businesses, who the administration says have already pledged $200 million over the next five years and could give even more.

White House officials want these outside groups to study programs that have already worked to help men of color in some cities and states and figure out ways to expand those programs throughout the country.

“None of these disparities we pointed to are things that can’t be addressed,” said Cecilia Muñoz , Obama’s top domestic policy adviser. “We know what works.”

Magic Johnson Enterprises, the company the former Lakers guard runs, McDonald’s and the National Basketball Association are among the businesses working with the administration, as well as non-profits like the Ford Foundation.

Johnson and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will attend Thursday’s event at the White House with Obama.

Overall, White House officials say black and Hispanic men face five particular challenges that often lead to their underachievement: a lack of family support, such as an absent father, in their early years; falling far behind their peers in their ability to read, often as early as third grade; being suspended from school; being arrested or spending time in jail; and lacking the mentoring and structure that would help them finish high school or apply to college.

Girls of color face many of these same problems, but at least right now, they are overcoming them at higher rates than their male counterparts. According to Department of Education statistics, the broader trend of women outperforming men in education is even more pronounced among blacks. About two thirds of the black students getting associate, bachelor or masters degrees are women, while only about a third are black men.

This initiative is also part of a broader project Obama is on to reshape his legacy. After a first term defined largely by recovering from the recession and passing the national health care law, in the last year the president has pushed a number of policies to address issues that disproportionately affect minorities. His administration is trying to reduce the drug sentences of non-violent criminals, target more federal funding to persistently low-income urban and rural communities and fight laws that bar convicted felons from voting as well as provisions that require a photo ID to vote.