September 3, 2017; Chicago Sun-Times
Editor’s note: NPQ’s late correspondent Rick Cohen was famous for his predictive capabilities, and as we write this, we still mourn his loss.
My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative that later spun off into a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, or MBK, will merge with the Obama Foundation.
MBK, arguably one of Barack Obama’s most personal White House initiatives, was launched to address the opportunity gap for young men and boys of color. As he launched MBK in 2014, he prefaced his announcement by saying, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” referring to the young man of color who was unjustly shot and killed in 2012. As he attended his final MBK event as president, he went on to say, “This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle, not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.”
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MBK gained early and significant support from the corporate (PepsiCo, American Express, BET) and philanthropic (Open Society, Robert Wood Johnson, and Knight Foundations) communities, as well as celebrities such as John Legend and Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning. Blair Taylor, former president of the Starbucks Foundation, was hired in 2016 to set the new nonprofit on a growth trajectory, and finalized a five-year strategic plan, which started this year. Taylor’s role will now be absorbed into the Foundation structure.
This move doesn’t come as a big surprise. The players at the Obama Foundation and MBK overlap and are centered on Obama’s network, including Ariel Investments Chairman John Rogers, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and acting MBK Executive Director Michael Smith. And, in an environment where even generous corporate and philanthropic funding are subject to change, it’s likely appealing to MBK to anchor itself with Obama’s brand name and fundraising capability.
The Obama Foundation, launched in 2014, is modest in size at a little over $13 million in assets, according to GuideStar, and is described as a “working, living center for citizenship.” The key initiative the foundation has underway is the development of the Obama Presidential Center, a center for civic engagement in the South Side of Chicago. The integration of MBK will provide a center of gravity for the foundation, providing tangible—and likely its most significant—programming for its overall mission.
As NPQ’s Rick Cohen predicted, MBK seems likely to become the “philanthropic vehicle that President Obama will ride as he leaves the White House.”—Danielle Holly