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The Root Cause Blog
29 Jan

Guest Post: Open Society Foundations' Kenneth Zimmerman Reacts to SOTU

Written by Kenneth H. Zimmerman, Director of U.S. Programs, Open Society Foundations

For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action
This piece originally appeared in Open Society Voices.

In the State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said that he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president’s commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis—graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

For many years, a broad range of nonprofits, foundations, and businesses have been doing all they can to help these young men reach their full potential. In the field of philanthropy, the president’s remarks build on existing momentum.

The California Endowment’s Sons and Brothers campaign, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise initiative, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement work affirm a commitment to strengthen the health and success of boys and young men of color. In addition BMAfunders.org, a project of several foundations, serves as a resource to anyone interested in fostering black male achievement.

The Open Society Foundations have always focused efforts on the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. For the last five years, through our Campaign for Black Male Achievement, we have made a long-term investment in improving the life outcomes of black males through support of mentoring, education, and common sense school discipline policies.

We know firsthand that collaborative approaches, especially those that involve a wide variety of stakeholders, have already had real traction in improving the life outcomes of boys and men of color in the United States. Just one example is the $127-million, three-year partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Open Society Foundations in the Young Men’s Initiative, which utilizes a range of programs and approaches to address systemic barriers faced by young black and Latino men and boys.

We hope the president’s call to action will encourage leaders in every sector to embark upon similar work. We look forward to participating in expanded and more collaborative efforts that engage the business, non-profit, government, and philanthropic sectors. Increased partnerships between the public and private sector will help make success a reality for many more of young men and boys.