In February 2014, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color as well as to ensure all youth can reach their full potential. In 2015, to scale and sustain this mission, he launched the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance). Then, in late 2017, MBK Alliance became an initiative of the Obama Foundation.
Within the Obama Foundation, MBK Alliance focuses on building safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color where they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.
On January 15, 2021, the actual birthday of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Urban League of Greater Cleveland, in partnership with My Brother’s Keeper Ohio 2021, launched My Brother’s Keeper Greater Cleveland Chapter, a program to support boys and young men of color from this community. Funding and planning partners include the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Foundation. The Kirwan Institute for The Study of Race and Ethnicity is also a partner.
An announcement was made during the Jan. 15th Cleveland Cavaliers game.
“We know there is a great need for our young people today with COVID-19 impacting the way in which they are going to school and experiencing interaction with their peers,” said Marsha A. Mockabee, President & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland (ULGC), who will co-chair the initiative with Reverend Stanley Miller, former Cleveland NAACP Executive Director.
Both are happy to be bringing this “vital additional programming” to Northeast, Ohio. While MBK is a mentoring program, it also provides career development to young participants because it uses the ULGC Project Ready curriculum.
Since 2018, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland has focused on building structured career pathways at the high school level under their Project Ready banner and curriculum, said Mockabee. Project Ready is designed to prepare African American and other historically underserved youth for college and careers. By partnering with Ohio MBK, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland will align its programming activities to specifically target African American males in high school, she said.
According to Mockabee, the executive and planning teams will begin working this month to develop the total program plan, and that will be shared with the community as soon as it is completed. They are looking to serve between 100 to 150 high school boys and young men of color within the first year.
“On this birthday of our beloved Dr. Martin Luther King, we also have a dream, one that provides for the same kind of support and empowerment for girls and young women of color in our communities,” Mockabee said. “This dream will be realized through a collaboration with Saving Our Daughters and Students of Promise. So, as our birthday present to Dr. King, we have reached out to partners and knitted together a web of resources to support young men and women in our community to be all that they can be.”
Saving Our Daughters is a 501c3 organization that works with girls from multicultural backgrounds through theater, film, culinary and literacy, to help them to overcome the many obstacles they face growing up such as the various forms of bullying, dating abuse, domestic violence and other esteem slayers. The mission is to support adolescent girls in overcoming social barriers preventing them from thriving.
Students of Promise, founded by Bob Ivory, started as a closing the achievement gap program in Cleveland Metropolitan School District before launching in outer-ring suburban districts such as Cleveland Heights, University Heights, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights and Warrensville. Students of Promise will assist with recruitment.
According to Mockabee, the services generated through this collaborative effort will help young people get “re-engaged, re-invigorated and re-connected” with the community. The Urban League of Greater Cleveland will leverage its 20 plus year history of partnering with school districts throughout Greater Cleveland to help form structured career pathways in the industries of Construction, Healthcare, Information Technology, Financial Services and Cosmetology.
Upon agreeing to host the program, Mockabee said during a press conference earlier this week, her biggest concern was ensuring they had the proper funding to support it. For year one, a pool of funding shared by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Foundation totals $90,000 and a second year commitment is already in progress.
“We are excited to be a funding partner with My Brother’s Keeper Greater Cleveland and Saving Our Daughters and Students of Promise. It is so important now more than ever within our communities that we provide all of our youth with mentors that look like them and understand their unique challenges,” said Darlene Toney, Program Officer, Youth & Human Services, Cleveland Foundation. Cleveland Foundation made a two-year funding commitment.
Toney values the collaboration with the ULGC and Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, who initially brought the program to Ohio.
There are 11 MBK Chapters currently operating in Ohio, all with their own unique focus. Each provides weekly instruction and programming for students. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, in conjunction with Ohio State University, supplements the programming in addition to providing opportunities for students to gain exposure to various career opportunities, self-empowerment and advocacy tools.
“We know our society hasn’t invested in all young people as they should have. We hope to change that,” said Brown.
Kevin Clayton, vice president of Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement for the Cleveland Cavaliers, said the partnership may seem like an obvious choice but the CAVS top brass leadership all agreed they wanted to go deeper, to be a very active sponsor instead of simply providing financial support.
The Cleveland Cavaliers committed to five years of funding in addition to offering up access to their facility, players and coaches.
“Supporting our youth is a core value for us and we look forward to leveraging our people, our assets and our facilities across our entire organization to help advance the important and impactful mission, goals and positive outcomes that this effort and group brings to our community,” said Clayton. “We can’t think of a better way to contribute to this piece of social justice.”
For more information about My Brother’s Keeper Greater Cleveland chapter, call 216/622-0999 or visit http://www.ulcleveland.org.
Rhonda Crowder is a freelance journalist, entrepreneur, author and literacy advocate. She is also the associate publisher of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland.