Obama Launches Program for Disadvantaged Minority Youth

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Carol E. Lee

President Barack Obama is launching a public-private program Thursday to provide economic and educational opportunities to disadvantaged black and Latino youth, an initiative that includes a $200 million commitment from foundations and the buy-in of several business leaders and public officials.

Mr. Obama's My Brother's Keeper program employs the "convening power" of the presidency, which he said in last month's State of the Union address he would use, pooling resources from foundations, corporations and elected officials.

The president is also creating a cabinet-level position, to be held by Broderick Johnson, who will head a task force focused solely on this program, White House officials said.

The goal is to maintain the initiative across federal agencies, including assessing federal policies and regulations. Mr. Johnson is a lawyer and former Clinton administration official who advised the Obama re-election campaign.

The initiative will focus on issues ranging from nutrition and health to education and youth violence.

The effort has the backing of several prominent figures in business and politics. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former basketball star and entrepreneur Magic Johnson, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will join Mr. Obama at the White House to unveil the initiative.

The East Room event will also include Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment, according to the White House.

Cecilia Munoz, Mr. Obama's domestic policy adviser, said the initiative focuses on young men and boys of color, because statistics show a disproportionate number of them are unemployed, undereducated and in trouble with the law.

"These young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers and account for almost half of the country's murder victims each year," a White House fact sheet on the program says.

Creating ways to improve the lives of young men and boys of color is a personal issue for Mr. Obama, his longtime friend and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said. Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will continue to work on the issue after leaving office in 2017.

Ms. Jarrett noted that the unveiling of the program is taking place around the second anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, the African-American teen whose shooting by a Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer riveted the nation. One of Mr. Obama's most direct comments on race was about that case, with the president saying Mr. Martin "could have been me 35 years ago" and that if he had a son he would look like the young Florida man.

Mr. Obama has come under criticism, particularly in his first term, from African-American leaders who said he hasn't focused narrowly enough on the economic struggles of minorities. He has also battled criticism that he hasn't used his role as president to spotlight issues of race.

Asked why girls aren't included in the program, Ms. Jarrett said the president has other initiatives that focus on women and girls.

The Education Department will have a leading role in the program, officials said, but Attorney General Eric Holder and other cabinet officials will be closely involved.

Philanthropies have agreed to invest $200 million over the next five years, the White House said. Those involved include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

Over the next 90 days, the foundations will create a structure for spending the funds on areas such as early child development, parenting, literacy and economic opportunity.

The White House said it expects additional financial pledges in coming weeks and months and that other business leaders have expressed interest in joining, including Rosalind Brewer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unit Sam's Club, Kenneth Chenault of American Express Co. and Don Thompson of McDonald's Corp.

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications

This article was corrected at 10:25 ET to fix the reference to The John and James L. Knight Foundation. The correct name is The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
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