There are several criticisms of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, but they are not what I want to talk about here. I think the most meaningful part of this discussion is a letter to President Obama voicing concerns about his initiative and signed by 200 black men. Yes, it’s another criticism, but the thing I want to talk about is the signers’ understanding that efforts at reform won’t succeed if black men leave their mothers and sisters and daughters behind. And that is exactly what such programs require them to do.
The letter’s signers are concerned that President Obama’s initiative for helping men and boys of color lacks a comparable focus on girls and women. To be clear, they don’t want a moratorium on such initiatives, but they think this program ignores the importance of women and girls in their own right—that is, the importance of women and girls to their community. I hope there will be more debate on the supposed benefits of the addition of women to this top-down program for men, but I think the signers have hit on a sound principle that should be emphasized.
Modern religions tell us that humans are the offspring of fallen Man. On the other hand, I’ve said humans have the potential to be great. However, I wasn’t making a case for the genetic superiority of the species. I meant to say that humans are great when they make their communities work for everyone. Human greatness only becomes visible in a true community.
Maybe My Brother’s Keeper will have a good effect. I hope it does. But I don’t think trickle-down social schemes will ever bring lasting change. Real change begins in a community and spreads outward from there. I think this letter illustrates that you don’t need help from governments or billionaires to understand that. And in any case, it seems the kind of community these signers imagine is not what the creators of My Brother’s Keeper had in mind.
Regardless of the immediate effect of this letter, it illustrates a powerful principle. It might just be the start of something great.