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My Brother’s Keeper: One Motivation, Two Perspectives

Families, Youth

President Obama enters the East Room of the White House with Christian Champagne at the start of the "My Brother's Keeper," even

President Obama enters the East Room of the White House with Christian Champagne at the start of the "My Brother's Keeper," event on Feb. 27. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By George L. Askew, MD, FAAP, Chief Medical Officer, Office of the Chief Medical Officer

And Kevin Powell, Health Policy Intern, Office of the Chief Medical Officer

As black males of two generations involved in health policy work we are quite aware that health disparities remain widespread among members of racial and ethnic minority populations. This is particularly true for men of color who experience significant health disparities. Men of color, from all walks of life, are disproportionately at risk for negative health outcomes - from their youngest years through college and the early stages of their professional lives. Statistics also indicate the greatest overall mortality rate is among 15-24 year old African-American males.

Why are men of color at such great risk? The reasons for these health disparities are not directly related to race and ethnicity. Instead, low income, lack of access to care, language and cultural differences, and other barriers often make good health harder to achieve. That is why we are both so pleased that President Obama  launched My Brother’s Keeper—a new initiative with leading foundations and businesses that will take a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color.

For decades, opportunity has lagged for boys and young men of color.  However, across the country, communities are adopting approaches to help put these boys and young men on the path to good health and success. The President’s initiative will bring business and philanthropic leaders together with policy makers, educators, faith leaders and law enforcement, to consider how to better support positive outcomes among boys and men of color. President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother's Keeper Task Force to help determine which public and private efforts are working and how the federal government can support those efforts. That doesn't only benefit our kids facing tough circumstances—it benefits all Americans.

George L. Askew: Prior to being appointed Chief Medical Officer at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), I was fortunate enough to be mentored by several men of color who contributed to my success and well-being through their positive influence and support.

Kevin Powell: And as a young black male interning at ACF, I have been lucky enough to learn from numerous positive male role models—including Dr. Askew—who are helping me reach my full potential in many ways.

Unfortunately, young men of color do not always have healthy male relationships or access to mentors. Our experience has shown us that these significant, supportive male relationships do not have to be with a CEO or a business leader to help a young person facing tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential. Support figures come from multiple arenas and communities across the country are getting to work helping to put disadvantaged kids on the path to success. Positive relationships are truly the pathways to change. Because of the exceptional role models in both of our lives, we know it is our duty to pass along the nurturing, guidance, and support that has helped us become the healthy, confident, and optimistic men we are today.

Boys are often taught to cope quietly with whatever challenges and barriers they face. Our hope is that My Brother’s Keeper will offer much needed help in eliminating this suffocating silence and eliminate some of the barriers that hinder men of color from attaining their full health potential. Boys and men of color can no longer afford to remain silent in their own lives – particularly when it comes to their health. We have to promote the concept of constant care and awareness to our young men and help them act on it. Here at the Administration for Children and Families, we are continuously working to help increase health awareness and health literacy among men and their families.  We ask that you join the movement by doing your part to create a healthy future for many generations of young men of color to come.

To learn more about the President’s new initiative click the link: My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

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