Two Perspectives on My Brother’s Keeper

Can My Brother’s Keeper Fulfill Its Promise Without Keeping Sisters Too?

My Brother’s Keeper: Toward a More Inclusive Nation

Lisalyn R. Jacobs: Can My Brother’s Keeper Fulfill Its Promise Without Keeping Sisters Too?

The President’s announcement of the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative did not surprise me.  I advocate on behalf of a women’s rights organization; I worked through several sessions of Congress with the offices of then-Senator Barack Obama and Representative Danny Davis on their fatherhood bill.

I was, however, frustrated by the announcement and I remain so.

The initiative contemplates a public-private partnership with the federal government primarily using the power of the bully pulpit – though Administration officials have also taken part in community outreach and listening sessions, and spent a considerable amount of time and effort to gather, synthesize, evaluate and submit a first report to the President.  But MBK looks past struggling girls and at-risk young women while urging that time and resources be spent on at-risk boys and young men.

Let me be clear:  I think that programming that supports children and young men and women in at-risk communities is vital, and desperately needed.  I salute the President for acknowledging the need for a focus on the needs of youth in communities that are—as we have seen in Ferguson this summer—under siege.

What troubles me, however, are two things:  The suggestion that the problems being faced by boys and young men of color are so unique – or so much worse than those that girls and young women face – that they need their own initiative; and the related but in some ways more dangerous idea that the violence that young men face is more deserving of focused attention.

In a recent editorial, the Washington Post summarized the “men of color are at greatest risk” argument this way:  “That minority men are at disproportionate risk throughout their lives has largely been seen as unavoidable.”

What this observation fails to acknowledge is that the minority males that are the focus of MBK live in places where crime rates are high, homicides are commonplace, and schools are oftentimes failing, and consequently, that these are problems for everyone in the community:  struggling families and their boys and girls, alike.

For instance, schools compound the problem by disproportionately sanctioning youth of color, from preschool age and up. Black girls are suspended at rates higher than girls of any other race and most racial groupings of boys as well. The fact that the suspension rate for African American boys is 20 percent – versus a 12 percent rate for black girls – should send a message that the education system needs to do better by all youth of color; not that young men should be the chief focus of the Administration’s first major initiative to examine the enduring and entrenched problems experienced by youth of color in at-risk communities.

Additionally, whether you look at educational attainment or economic prospects, black and Hispanic men and women are doing worse both in absolute terms and relative to their white counterparts.

There is no going forward, unless we all go forward together – boys and girls, young men and young women, are our collective future.

Nevertheless, I’ve encountered too many people who have fallen prey to the notion that MBK and similar programs that exclude or marginalize at-risk girls are the solution. Two problems stem from this view:  1) providing more opportunities in at-risk communities will not change the preconceptions and bias that felled Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, and most recently Mike Brown; 2) focusing on young men exclusively (or primarily) overlooks the fact that young women are similarly situated and that the unique challenges they face might very well be ignored by this type of “trickle down” programming.  To paraphrase a post-Ferguson tweet I saw recently, “you can’t [save just] half the community.”

People point to the salience of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case, and now, the killing of Mike Brown to explain the narrow focus of MBK on young men.  The concern in these cases grows, at least partially, out of this country’s ugly past, which is strewn with black and brown bodies that were lynched or otherwise dispatched for reasons trivial to non-existent, and never with the sanction of a court.  So, it’s crucial to recall that black women were lynched, too, with the earliest records dating back to the late 19th century.  And it’s equally important to recognize that women of color, including trans women, continue to be brutalized and murdered, whether by law enforcement or private citizens (see here, here, and here).  Moreover, we cannot hope to begin the work of dismantling the systems that permit this kind of institutionalized oppression to continue unless we acknowledge that Asian, Arab, Latino, and Native communities are at-risk as well.

As we observe the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act this month, it’s important to point out that the type of violence that women of color experience is simultaneously similar to and distinct from the kind of violence most often experienced by men.  Young women in many of the above-mentioned communities also struggle with staggering levels of domestic violence and sexual assault (see also here).   This violence is particularly difficult to identify and respond to because of underreporting, which is connected to the pervasive levels of police mistrust in of color, Native, immigrant, and LGBT communities.  And, as we’ve been reminded recently, the failure to report can also be a result of crimes of sexual violence being perpetrated by the police.

There is a deep reservoir of expertise within the Administration when it comes to providing culturally appropriate services in communities that are rightfully dubious of law enforcement, and supports for children who have witnessed violence.  These are among the approaches that MBK should assess and replicate in the months ahead.  As the Administration contemplates the way forward for MBK, it is also vital that the program includes a focus on the ways in which violence and other obstacles – including poverty, maternal morbidity, reproductive justice, underemployment, limited access to apprenticeships and job training – manifest in the lives of girls and young women of color.  Until both MBK and its well-financed external counterpart, the Boys and Men of Color Initiative, widen their focus to include girls and young women of color, at-risk communities will have neither the tools nor the resources necessary to ensure that they can move forward and flourish.   Make no mistake:  there is no going forward, unless we all go forward together – boys and girls, young men and young women, are our collective future.

The fact is that the challenges at-risk boys and girls face are community challenges.  Until we are all safe and prospering, none of us will be.

Lisalyn R. Jacobs is V.P. of Government Relations at Legal Momentum.  She leads the organization’s federal advocacy on violence against women, poverty, and economic issues.  A single mother, she lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her 6 year-old son. On Twitter:  @LRockL


Sam Fulwood III: My Brother’s Keeper: Toward a More Inclusive Nation

Not long after President Obama announced his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, an ambitious effort to rally public and private support for boys and men of color, a group of concerned activists mounted a high-visibility campaign to alter – some might say, to undermine – the White House plan.  Surprisingly, this rear-guard action came, not from the ranks of right-wing conservatives, but from the President’s skeptical, left-most flank.

The African American Policy Forum, which describes itself as “an innovative think tank connecting academics, activists, and policy-makers to dismantle structural inequality and engage new ideas and perspectives to transform public discourse and policy,” assumed leadership in the effort to compel the White House to include women and girls in the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative.  The group collected signatures of more than 1,000 women of color demanding gender equality in the President’s program and rallied 200 black men to publish an open letter in a major newspaper.

While their argument packs the emotional wallop of seemingly protecting the interest of girls and women, the logic is faulty and the public shaming tactic is divisively misguided. Arguments that President Obama’s initiative to support boys and men of color is somehow disrespecting or ignoring the plight of black girls and women strikes a hollow and discordant note. Worse yet, it comes from within the ranks of those who profess to share the President’s ultimate objective of creating a fairer society and more opportunity for all.

To be clear, those critical of the “My Brother’s Keeper” effort are focused on tactics and resources, not the end goal. Like politicians, social activists must marshal money and media attention to drive public support to its cause. In and of itself, that’s neither a good, nor bad thing; it’s the way of the public policy world.

But public policy is just that, serving the greater good of the entire society. If the policy is well-crafted and executed, the larger society will benefit.  The acid test of a targeted effort, such as “My Brother’s Keeper” would be whether all – not just boys and men of color – prosper. True, women and girls of color, too, have challenges deserving focused attention. So do communities of immigrants and people with disabilities and folks in the LGBT communities.

But in a universe of short attention spans and limited (to nonexistent) resources, can we target all at once? Where does the President (or any socially conscious group) draw a line when seeking to reach the greatest public policy end?  Or, stated another way, is support for one cause, by definition an affront to another?  It doesn’t have to be.

Indeed, such fallacious zero-sum thinking is at the heart of the opposition to the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative. “My Brother’s Keeper” draws one set of targeted efforts to protect boys and men of color, but there’s nothing about it that excludes anyone – including women and girls.  Quite the contrary, if the President’s initiative is successful, the totality of America will benefit.

When we transform structures to work for marginalized groups, it can often benefit all groups, and it certainly doesn’t harm any of them

Valerie Jarrett, the Senior Advisor to the President, argues that line of reasoning in defending the White House and pointing out its efforts to assist girls and women. “I think the flaw in logic is not understanding that this is not either/or, this is both/and,” Jarrett said in a recent appearance television interview to defend the initiative.

The same logic undergirded a recent White House Summit on Working Families, where the President made it clear his focus is on improving the life opportunities for all Americans, including women and girls.

And here is a critical point:  All too often, these issues are thought of as women’s issues, which I guess means you can kind of scoot them aside a little bit.  At a time when women are nearly half of our workforce, among our most skilled workers, are the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before, anything that makes life harder for women makes life harder for families and makes life harder for children.  When women succeed, America succeeds, so there’s no such thing as a women’s issue. . . .This is a family issue and an American issue — these are commonsense issues.

john a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley, and Maya Rockeymore, chief executive of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, are convincing in their support of “My Brother’s Keeper’s” targeted approach.   In an essay for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, they draw an analogy to public debates over to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990 and outlawed discrimination based on disability and provided protections for the disabled. It was a targeted law that proved to be beneficial to a much larger, public body. They write:

We can understand this idea if we think of individuals who are in a wheelchair trying to reach an upper floor. An escalator will not support those individuals in the same way as it would those who are able-bodied. It is not the disabled group that needs fixing but the structure. The goal is to convey everyone to the upper floor, and it is universal. But the strategy to achieve this goal must be targeted toward the disabled individuals to address their circumstances, which differ from those of other groups. We call this strategy “targeted universalism.”

Does this mean that we should only focus on the individuals in the wheelchair? No.

But neither does it mean that we treat all groups attempting to get to the upper floor the same. A targeted universalism approach is concerned about the mobility of all groups while recognizing that some groups will require targeted strategies to get there.

Should we remain concerned about groups that are still not being targeted or well served, such as women and girls of color? The simple answer is yes.

Notice that if we build an elevator, it benefits not only the wheelchair-bound group but also everybody else. When we transform structures to work for marginalized groups, it can often benefit all groups, and it certainly doesn’t harm any of them, including those with unlimited mobility.

Unfortunately, rational reasoning falls hard on the ears of advocates who imagine an overflowing gravy train of administration focus on men and boys of color and their exclusion from the philanthropic largess. They’re wrong. And worse, in their crabs-in-a-barrel attacks, they do harm to an initiative that offers promise to help move us toward a fairer, more inclusive nation.

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.




The Surprising Opponent to a Solution for Our Oral Health Crisis

One in three people in the U.S. can’t get dental care when and where they need it. The fact is, finding a dentist is tough, especially for those who rely on public health insurance. There’s a dental provider shortage in America leaving nearly 49 million people without access to quality care.  Instead of getting the treatment they need, people live in pain, miss school or work, and develop life-threatening infections.

Maybe you’ve heard about the tragic death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver.  His mom couldn’t find a dentist who would accept Medicaid and she couldn’t afford the $80 extraction for his infected tooth. Sadly, Deamonte’s dental-related death is not an isolated incident. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) reports that over an eight-year period, 66 people died after being hospitalized for a dental infection.

The good news is we already know how to dramatically improve access to dental care: allow mid-level dental providers—similar to physician assistants and nurse practitioners—to perform routine care. It’s a safe, cost-effective and productive solution to the crisis.  However, progress is being blocked by an organization that you might least suspect would stand in the way—the ADA.

Mid-level dental providers have been utilized by more than 50 countries for almost a century and are now practicing in Alaska, Minnesota and Maine. In all, more than 20 states are currently considering allowing these health professionals to provide routine and preventive care like cleanings, fillings and some extractions.

While studies show conclusively that mid-level dental providers deliver safe, quality care, these workers also boost the economy. They allow dentists to grow their practices and increase revenues while treating more patients. The model creates new, good jobs that offer a career ladder for current dental employees. Finally, by improving the health care options available to employees and their families, implementing mid-level dental  helps communities attract new businesses.

While the ADA’s own journal acknowledged “a variety of studies indicate that appropriately trained mid-level providers are capable of providing high quality service,” the organization remains opposed.  The ADA continually cites “safety” as its primary concern, claiming that these dental professionals are not properly trained to perform “surgical” procedures. However, the organization has never been able to point to a single study that supports that view. In contrast, there have been thousands of studies on the quality of care provided by dental mid-levels, and none has ever shown it to be unsafe. The ADA’s voice of opposition is an increasingly lonely one, as the list of supporters of reform is growing—from the American Academy of Pediatrics to AARP.

Change is never easy. When dental hygienists were introduced in the early part of the last century, organized dentistry opposed them.  Likewise, the medical community initially pushed back against physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Now, however, dentists and doctors can’t imagine functioning without these skilled team members, and our health care is far better because of it.

It’s just a matter of time before mid-level dental providers make their way to all 50 states.  Millions of Americans living in pain will then have something to smile about.




Two Battles, One War: The Struggle to End HIV/AIDS and Poverty

Despite the fact that biomedical research continues to march towards a cure, HIV continues to spread. Why? Why are there new infections when we can prevent transmission of the virus? Why do people living with HIV in the United States continue to die when we have the treatments that will enable them to lead long, happy lives?

We frequently talk about stigma and a lack of access to healthcare as primary obstacles to ending this epidemic, and commit ourselves to addressing these issues. But one thing we don’t talk about enough is poverty. When it comes to contracting HIV, living in poverty is one of the greatest risk factors of all.

It’s no coincidence that African Americans—only 13 percent of the US population—constitute 46 percent of the people who are newly diagnosed with HIV, and also suffer a poverty rate 11.5 percentage points higher than the nation as a whole.

It’s no coincidence that men who have sex with men account for 65 percent of new HIV infections, and that LGBT men and women are more likely to live in poverty than their heterosexual peers.

It’s no coincidence that injection drug users are more likely to share needles if they are living below the poverty line.

And it’s no coincidence that counties with high HIV rates also have poverty rates nearly 7 percentage points higher than the rest of the country.

Our fight against HIV is inextricably tied to the fight against poverty. Earlier this year, Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, said, “Just as money alone is insufficient to end poverty, science is powerless to defeat AIDS unless we tackle the underlying social and structural factors.”

The barriers that prevent us from ending HIV/AIDS are no longer scientific, they are societal. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Poverty can limit access to health care, HIV testing, and medications that can lower levels of HIV in the blood and help prevent transmission. In addition, those who cannot afford the basics in life may end up in circumstances that increase their HIV risk.”

Imagine not knowing your status, and being unable to take a day off work to get tested for fear of losing your job. Imagine having to choose between groceries and the gas required to drive yourself to the HIV clinic, or going without heat so that you can afford to stay on your medication.  Worst of all, imagine your financial situation is such that risky behavior like transactional sex feels like the only way you can survive.

Poverty is a disease that affects not only individuals but entire communities. Poorer communities lack the resources to adequately treat and fight the virus. Therefore, regardless of your personal income, living in impoverished areas dramatically increases your vulnerability to HIV.

In 2010 the CDC found that 2.1 percent of heterosexual residents in low-income urban areas are infected with HIV. These are epidemic levels—far higher than the national average of 0.45 percent. Further, the residents in these areas who were living below the poverty line were twice as likely to be infected with HIV as those living above the poverty line.  Regardless of race, as incomes fall, the likelihood of being infected with HIV skyrockets, leading the CDC to conclude that “poverty is the single most important demographic associated with HIV infection among inner-city heterosexuals.”

Fortunately, there are organizations that are beginning to make gains in the fight against this trend.

Just as poverty and HIV are inextricably linked, so too must our efforts be to end them.

Medical AIDS Outreach of Alabama (MAO) works in the rural areas of the Black Belt Region of southern Alabama—where rates of HIV infection are alarmingly high—to provide treatment and combat stigma for hundreds of people, 75 percent of whom live in poverty. When transportation from rural areas to urban clinics is too expensive and prevents people from receiving treatment, MAO uses telemedicine to check in with patients and to ensure that they are adhering to their treatment regimen.  The Elton John AIDS Foundation supports the MAO community health workers who connect patients in rural areas with the care they need, which is their fundamental right.

The Fortune Society in New York City works with formerly incarcerated individuals to provide housing, job training, and, for those living with HIV, connection to medical treatment. By taking a holistic view of each of their clients, The Fortune Society combats poverty and HIV one person at a time, with the knowledge that one dramatically affects the other.  The Elton John AIDS Foundation is a proud funder of this work as well.

Whether fighting AIDS abroad or here at home, the words of Jim Yong Kim ring true: “To end both AIDS and poverty, we need sustained political will, social activism, and an unwavering commitment to equity and social justice.”

Just as poverty and HIV are inextricably linked, so too must our efforts be to end them.





See Poverty Rates in Your State & Congressional District

TalkPoverty exists in part to demonstrate that our nation already knows what works to dramatically reduce poverty. All we lack is the political will to do it.

Part of this work involves identifying areas where poverty is prevalent and finding out communities are particularly affected. This week, we learned that the national poverty rate fell slightly in 2013, with particular gains among children. However, we know that the national poverty rate doesn’t tell the whole story. We continue to see the same regional disparities in poverty rates, as many states (and policymakers) refuse to make the investments that this country needs to fight poverty.

In order to make the Census data more easily accessible and usable, we’ve updated our interactive map. We believe data is a key tool to hold policymakers accountable and to promote policies that we know can reduce poverty.  You can use these data to write letters to the editor, email or call your elected officials, and share your personal story.

Using our interactive map, you can see the overall poverty rate in your state as well as state poverty rates for women, children, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic/Latino Americans. Starting with this year’s data, you can also see the poverty rate in your congressional district, including child poverty and poverty rates by race/ethnicity and gender.

NOTE: The 2013 state and congressional district-level data distributed by the Census’s American Community Survey include rates for demographic subgroups (African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latino Americans). The poverty rates for these demographic sub-groups should be interpreted with care because due to relatively small sample sizes for these groups, there are sometimes wide margins of error around the calculated poverty rates. This is particularly true in low-population states and districts. The rates for sub-groups should therefore be taken as estimates.

Here is some of the data you can find:

Which states have the highest overall poverty rates?

Mississippi 24.05%
New Mexico 21.93%
Louisiana 19.76%
Arkansas 19.68%
Georgia 18.97%

Which states have the lowest overall poverty rates?

New Hampshire 8.70%
Alaska 9.33%
Maryland 10.12%
Connecticut 10.73%
Hawaii 10.85%

Which states have the highest child poverty rates?

Mississippi 33.70%
New Mexico 30.95%
Arkansas 28.63%
Louisiana 27.43%
South Carolina 27.25%

Which states have the lowest child poverty rates?

New Hampshire 9.71%
North Dakota 11.77%
Alaska 11.79%
Hawaii 12.68%
Wyoming 12.93%

Make sure to visit our interactive map to learn more!



4 Things Communities must do to become a Promise Zone

As the federal government invests in nutrition, health, education, and job-training programs that keep families out of poverty, complementary investments to strengthen high-poverty communities across the country are also important. Fortunately, over the past several years, the Obama administration has invested in low-income urban, rural, and tribal communities, and it increasingly understands what it takes to drive and support local innovation. Still, many local leaders are faced with the challenge of addressing some of the United States’ most complex social problems with limited resources at their disposal.

These high-poverty communities suffer from problems such as inferior housing and infrastructure, poor health outcomes, failing schools, and little to no economic opportunity. According to analysis by Center for American Progress experts, income inequality and low social mobility place a downward drag on national prosperity, underscoring how the strength of our communities is inextricably tied to the success of the United States as a whole. The Obama administration’s Promise Zones initiative understands this reality and strives to ensure that a child’s ZIP code does not determine the outcomes of his or her life. The initiative aims to revitalize high-poverty communities through comprehensive, evidence-based strategies and by helping local leaders navigate federal funding.

The strength of our communities is inextricably tied to the success of the United States as a whole

Today, the administration announced that it is receiving applications for the second round of Promise Zones designees. “As a former mayor of an urban Promise Zone community, I have a unique appreciation for the talent, passion and the vision that local leaders offer when working to turn their communities around,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “Promise Zones are about giving folks who have been underserved for far too long the opportunity to build stronger neighborhoods and more prosperous lives. At HUD, we’re honored to give other communities the opportunity to transform their futures so this work can continue across the country.” The deadline for submitting Promise Zones applications is November 21, 2014.

The initiative launched in January 2014 with Promise Zones in San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California; southeastern Kentucky; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

These neighborhoods received priority access to federal resources to support job creation; increase economic security; expand educational opportunities; increase access to quality, affordable housing; and improve public safety. The Obama administration also hopes to extend tax incentives to private businesses for hiring employees and investing in the zones.

Over the next two years, up to 15 more communities will be designated as Promise Zones, presenting an opportunity for public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders to work more collaboratively with both one another and federal officials to leverage resources and invest in proven strategies. As leaders and groups come together to plan their Promise Zones applications, here are four key components of the program they should keep in mind.

1. Community-driven efforts

Promise Zones are place-based initiatives designed to support communities in the innovative work they are already doing. Local leaders drive the direction of the effort, while the federal government serves as a catalyst by providing critical resources, facilitating partnerships, and building capacity.

For example, community and business leaders in the Choctaw Nation will focus on investing in basic infrastructure, including water and sewer systems, which have been identified as a serious impediment to economic development. In Philadelphia, leaders from Drexel University will focus on improving education quality through professional development for teachers, college access and readiness for middle school and high school students, and parental engagement.

2. Comprehensive strategies

There is no silver-bullet policy to address the many challenges facing high-poverty communities. These communities need a comprehensive set of strategies that equip youth and adult residents with the skills they need to prosper—and that ensure opportunities for success in their neighborhoods.

That’s why the Promise Zones initiative offers designees priority access to a range of revitalization resources through the U.S. Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Agriculture, to name a few. Applicants should have a strong vision and a well-integrated strategy to achieve it. The initiative was inspired in part by examples such as the East Lake Foundation’s work to transform the East Lake community in Atlanta, Georgia—a high-poverty neighborhood that suffered from blight and crime. Local leaders developed a strategy to tackle poverty by jointly addressing housing, education, workforce development, and health services. Today, violent crime is down by 95 percent, families receiving public assistance have seen their incomes quadruple, and the neighborhood’s school is the top-performing elementary school in the city.

3. Outcomes at the systems level

The Obama administration is looking to support efforts aimed at community-wide outcomes—for example, improving the educational system that serves all students in a community, rather than a single program that helps a fraction of students. The goal of the Promise Zones initiative is to take systemic action, which requires stakeholders to create common goals, follow shared metrics, and redirect resources accordingly.

For example, the Los Angeles Promise Zone is tracking 23 different indicators at the individual, family, and household levels for 10 core outcomes, such as improved academic performance in schools and the transformation of schools into community hubs where families can access their resources. This data will help the city and its partners ensure they are on track to reach their goals and course correct when necessary.

4. Data-driven results

In their proposals, Promise Zones applicants are required to describe the evidence that supports the work they plan to continue or undertake. In addition, communities must manage, share, and use data for evaluation and continuous improvement; this is critical for strategies with less supporting evidence than others. This is particularly helpful to ensure that stakeholders are focused on their shared goals. Furthermore, these data will help the federal government assess the effectiveness of local efforts and direct future funding toward the strategies that have been proven to work.

While many high-poverty communities could benefit from the Promise Zones designation, the process of bringing together the strengths and resources of a community to set clear and shared goals is critical, regardless of whether a site is ultimately selected for the initiative. As the next round of applications gets underway, communities have an opportunity to coalesce around their most intractable problems and to redefine their relationship with the federal government.