Malachi Hernandez grew up in a poor Boston neighborhood where he often heard the crackle of gunfire, and witnessed violence between his parents before his dad abandoned the family.
“Growing up with domestic violence and then a single parent was very difficult,” Hernandez said. “We were low-income. We had a lot of challenges. It wasn’t easy.”
But thanks to the work of Broderick Johnson and the White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, his outlook is better.
"We need to break these cycles," Johnson said. "It comes down to a good education."
In Hernandez’ case, he got that shot. My Brother’s Keeper helped him get an internship in the Mayor’s Office for Economic Development. He expects to graduate high school and has hopes to attend Northeastern University or American University.
But Johnson says there’s much more work to be done.
"One thing I hear over and over again: they have to work hard and make right choices and avoid trouble," he said. "We have to do our part to give them opportunities and resources."
My Brother's Keeper launched in 2014 under the directive of President Obama to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. Obama called for millions of dollars in commitment toward readiness for education, job and skills training and reducing violence.
Last week Johnson, who serves as chair of the program, released his second annual task force report, which announced a series of achievements and new public-private partnerships to empower Black boys and young men of color.
More than $600 million in private sector and philanthropic grants and in-kind resources and $1 billion in low-interest financing have been committed to My Brother's Keeper, according to the White House.
In addition, there are now nearly 250 communities that have accepted the MBK Community Challenge – representing 50 states, Washington, D.C., and 19 tribal nations.
The two year report highlighted several accomplishments including:
- The MBK School Success Mentor Initiative, a partnership between the Department of Education and Johns Hopkins University, pairing 250,000 sixth and ninth grade students with trained mentors in 30 communities that have accepted the MBK Community Challenge.
- The “Second Chance Pell” pilot program that gives Pell Grants to the incarcerated to finance postsecondary education and training.
- Boston's “Mayor’s Mentoring Movement” has reached 90% of its goal to recruit 1,000 new mentors
"We've seen a tremendous response from people and organizations at all levels that are answering the president's call to action," Johnson said. "What has been gratifying is watching these communities develop the infrastructure to do this work beyond President Obama’s presidency.
Still, Johnson directs My Brother’s Keeper during challenging, violent times. In Chicago alone, police recorded 468 homicides and 2,988 shootings last year, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He said he drives through the streets of urban cities, like Baltimore, where he grew up, watching unemployed young black men hanging out on street corners. “Knowing how young black men make mistakes and get into circumstances,” Johnson says. “We’re trying to give these young men opportunities at a time when Barack Obama is president.”
Johnson has spent time talking to young black men in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other major cities.
“In Chicago, I met a young man whose nickname was Trigger,” Johnson said. “He was part of a gang family. He knows he could be shot to death at 20 years old. He is 17, and I worry that he may make other mistakes.”
But MBK, he says, creates a path like the one opened for Tamir Harper, who is only 16 but is already Vice- Chairperson for the Philadelphia Youth Commission. His involvement in My Brother's Keeper, he says, has given him the confidence to become an outspoken young leader in his community.
"The MBK program has allowed me to be a voice for young black males in Philadelphia and work for change," Harper said.