03 Mar

Root Cause CEO Andrew Wolk Shares His Thoughts on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper

Written by Andrew Wolk, Founder and CEO 

 I was flying home from Milwaukee four years ago after attending a convening held by Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The two days had a dramatic impact on me—hearing the data and countless personal stories of the challenges black men and boys face in the United States was alarming, emotionally draining, and enlightening.

As I collected my thoughts two things were clear: First, since our inception, Root Cause had been focused on advancing progress on social issues like education or employment. However, I realized we actually needed to focus on people first and then the social issue–that was the only way to truly understand who is being afforded opportunity in this country, and the only way to measure progress. Second, I knew Root Cause had to get involved in some way with improving the life outcomes of black men and boys. The issue was urgent and challenged the very fundamental principles of our country.

Since then, Root Cause has had the privilege of working with an amazing set of leaders across the country to develop a business plan for, and now co-lead with PolicyLink, the Institute for Black Male Achievement (IBMA). The IBMA’s mission is to strengthen the capacity of its members across all the sectors. In less than two years, the IBMA has more than 2000 members all committed to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys. These members directly serve more than 600,000 people and mobilize more than 33 million across the country.

Something is happening! A movement is a foot! Momentum is building!

Last Monday, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s Commission on African American Males presented recommendations for a city wide approach to improving the life outcomes for black men and boys. Last week, Mayors from around the country gathered for the Cities United Conference, to develop plans to reduce violent deaths amount African American Males. Then on Thursday, President Obama announced My Brother’s Keeper, a joint effort involving government, philanthropy, the corporate sector, and faith-based and advocacy organizations to help America’s young men of color reach their full potential in school, work, and life.

This momentum brings me back to the “aha moment” I had on that fateful flight. This is about people. With all these efforts and so many more around the country—including The California Endowment’s Sons and Brothers, Robert Wood Johnson’s Forward Promise, and Black Male Engagement—we are bringing front and center some hard truths about who has opportunity in this country, and yes, an open and candid dialogue about race.  Here are just two facts, among too many—just 14 percent of black boys perform at or above proficiency on fourth-grade reading exams, compared to 42 percent of white boys. Since 1980 there have been more than 600,000 violent deaths in the United States, which is more than all the deaths combined in wars the U.S. has been involved in during the 21st century. Of those deaths, 50 percent are black men and boys, while they only represent 13 percent of the population. President Obama could not have put it better on Thursday, “We've become numb to statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.”

With President Obama’s announcement, the conversation has just become nationwide – the issue is on the table. Let’s celebrate this historic moment! For those involved in this work, let’s double down to reverse these trends. For everyone else, please join us, for this is so important.

Andrew Wolk is the founder and CEO of Root Cause and co-leads the Institute on Black Male Achievement with PolicyLink.