Detroit — The Skillman Foundation has committed $2 million in grants to President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Initiative, a plan to change outcomes for young men of color in Detroit.

Nearly 50 leaders from Detroit's civic, corporate and philanthropic communities, including Mayor Mike Duggan and former Mayor Dave Bing, gathered Monday morning on Wayne State University's campus to commit to the initiative, which the Obama administration began in February to address growing disparities facing young African American and Latino men such as poverty, low graduation rates and illiteracy.

This week, Skillman is making a $750,000 grant to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a national program will coordinate initiative efforts in Detroit.

The grant, to be paid over two years with $375,000 each in 2015 and 2016, focuses on building local leadership to collaborate on a framework to advance the work, organizers said. Of those funds, $500,000 will be deployed locally to support My Brother's Keeper initiatives and projects on the ground in Detroit.


Young mens choir performs at My Brother's Keeper event

Obama issued a set of recommendations and steps for implementing the initiative across the country then invited mayors to take on the challenge.

Duggan said his administration has hired a director of youth services, Shawn Blanchard, who already has several initiatives underway. Earlier this year, Duggan announced a plan to provide summer employment in 2015 for 5,000 youth ages 15-24 and he launched Goal Detroit, a citywide youth soccer league open to all elementary schools.

"The success of Detroit is directly tied to its young people," Duggan said. "The My Brother's Keeper program is vital, especially in a city like Detroit that is 83 percent African American. With the president's leadership and the support of the Skillman Foundation, we will do our part to make sure Detroit youths have access to opportunities and the support they require to reach their full potential."

Monday's attendees formed a work group with two subcommittees — a policy subcommittee and a resources and assets subcommittee — that will produce a joint report in 120 days that includes a set of recommendations to improve the life outcomes for young men of color in Detroit, Krista Jahnke, a Skillman spokesperson said.

Skillman has a special focus on six neighborhoods — Brightmoor, Chadsey Condon, Cody Rouge, Northend, Osborn, and Southwest Detroit — where multiple agencies have come together to work on improving outcomes.

In these areas, graduate rates for African American boys rose 15 percent from 2008 to 2013, said Tonya Allen, president & CEO of the Skillman Foundation.

"We know that this is possible. We've seen it happen in our neighborhoods...We have many strong partners working on these issues in Detroit. We need an alignment across agencies, neighborhoods and programs — a shared urgency. Today is a big step toward that alignment. We have accepted Obama's challenge, and now the real work begins."

Data shared at Monday's meeting included citywide demographic breakdowns and statistics that show how African-American and Hispanic populations are struggling in Detroit to achieve academically.

Among the statistics: Roughly 54 percent of both African-American and Hispanic males ages 0-24 live in poverty in Detroit; 86 percent of African-American male births from 2010-12 were to mothers who had never been married; the estimated number of third-grade males proficient in reading on the Fall 2013 MEAP was 28 percent for Hispanic males and 33 percent for African Americans; and the citywide graduate rate was 62 percent for African-American males and 55 percent for Hispanic males in 2013.

Jalen Skiffer, an Obsorn High school sophomore who attended the event, said he has the support of both parents at home as he focuses on school and preparing to get into college. He said the Brother's Keeper program can help someone like him meet all of his goals and keep returning to school as he walks along the city's dangerous east side.

"This program can help me, as far as anger and everything, having this program to sit down and talk, because communication is a lot now a days. It gives me that strive to want to go to school and keep me on track and focused on school," the 16-year-old said.

"Right now my distraction is my neighborhood, as I walk to school. I walk a few miles. Some guys can pull up on you and they don't even know you. That could be my fear, not wanting to go to school. So being in this program gives me that strive."

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