My Brother’s Keeper: Some Gaps That May Keep the Nation From Making Progress Among Males of Color

by D. Jason DeSousa

Given the disparate human conditions between boys and men of color and other populations, President Barack Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) to better create pathways for the success of males of color. Recently, the MBK Task Force provided the President and public a 90-day status report. The work is commendable and admittedly “only scratches the surface.”

Based on 20 years as a higher education practitioner, including positions as a provost; chief student affairs, enrollment management, and retention officer; and founder and director of two successful collegiate male initiatives at Morgan State University and Fayetteville State University, I offer some specific suggestions to strengthen the MBK’s final report. These suggestions are oftentimes overlooked by those who do not interact with boys and men of color daily.

Given both the weight and level from which this task force was formed – the White House and a cadre of philanthropic and private sector supporters – failure to close certain gaps in higher education and other domains could further create carte blanche justification for the ongoing marginalization of boys and men of color. In other words, if the MBK Task Force, with its luminaries and exorbitant resources fail, who could possibly be the best next hope to improve the plight of boys and men of color?

Pertinent Loose Ends
Isn’t it difficult to fathom that in 2014 – 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education – there are incidents when high school guidance counselors and others steer men of color to technical schools? Some high school administrators (and probably teachers, too) continue to set low academic expectations for boys and men of color. Yet, the MBK Task Force recommends “improving college advising services,” primarily by making more information available on postsecondary institutional degree completion rates and college debt. Changing this mindset of low expectations is integral to improving the college process and will likely result in more desirable educational outcomes for young men of color.

In 20 years, I never met a first-year student who had not completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) upon arriving on campus. I have met, however, scores of students and parents befuddled about how to close the gap between financial aid and the cost of attending college. Thus, it is not so much a matter of “encouraging FAFSA completion,” as the report recommends, as it is helping parents and students access resources to close the financial gap.

Nowhere in the recommendations did I read that the White House, MBK Task Force, or others should develop pathways for a critical mass of collegiate men of color to enter the K-12 teaching profession. My first African American male teacher was in 1982 as a first-year college student – not one from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Frequently, I ask the collegiate men of color with whom I work how many and when did you have your first male of color as a teacher? The majority did not benefit from the mentorship, high expectations, and role modeling from men of color teachers until reaching college. Isn’t it important for students of color, especially boys, to be exposed to men of color as teachers who can harness the importance of persistence, resiliency, responsibility, and leadership in ways other teachers cannot? This issue cannot be ignored in the final report if closing certain educational gaps is expected.

Promoting and investing in male initiatives is the last loose end. Male initiatives, such as Clemson’s “Call Me Mister,” Fayetteville State University’s “Boosting Bronco Brothers,” Morgan State University’s “MILE,” and North Carolina Central University’s “Centennial Scholars,” are just some of the programs on campuses nationwide. They are recognized as enhancing the quality of the undergraduate experience by building cadres of men of color with a collective sense of educational purpose with commensurate amounts of academic and personal support.

While the MBK Task Force cannot be all things to all boys and men of color, careful consideration should be given to avoiding a cookie-cutter approach to closing necessary gaps outlined in the report. Several factors need to be considered: geography, economics, learning styles, learning differences, and an array of family backgrounds. What works in urban locales may require different approaches in rural areas. Finally, colleges and universities have an important obligation to help close the achievement gap among collegiate men of color. Creating opportunities for collegiate men of color to engage in intensive summer bridge programs, particularly with a focus on math and writing; establishing peer-to-peer mentoring earlier; encouraging involvement in high impact practices; and rethinking traditional out-of-class experiences are approaches to re-focus colleges and universities on the goal of creating success for men of color.

D. Jason DeSousa is assistant vice chancellor for student retention at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. 

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  1. Hello Brother/Doctor DeSousa,
    Your response to President Obama’s MBK Final Report was an interesting read. As one who continues to labor in the “vineyard of higher education”, I applaud your insights and decades of commitment! My decision to return to earn my doctorate at 60 years old was fueled by a long held passion to work with and aid Black males to be successful in the higher education arena and beyond.
    In furtherance of my efforts to improve the retention and graduation rates for Black male community college student athletes, I’ll be submitting my first post-doctoral research fellow proposal to the National Science Foundation. In October 2014 I’m hoping to be awarded a two year grant by the NSF to expand my doctoral dissertation research, which examined the perceptions of Black male community college students athletes’ toward the student support services at a large public university in the northeastern United States.

    Request to visit with you.
    **My wife and I will be in the Fayetteville area visiting family Saturday August 9th and again August 14th-16th. I would love an opportunity to meet with you perhaps for breakfast or lunch. Moreover, I would love to hear more of your views on the plight of Blacks males and the terrible cycle many are consumed by and identifying ways and methods to help improve their overall condition. Furthermore, one of the primary factors that motivated me to return and earn my doctorate at a time when most of my “peers” ( 60-70 y/o) are pondering retirement, was driven by a long held passion to work at an HBCU. I believe that “dream” will come to fruition, I really do!
    Whatever your decision, I wish you nothing but the very best of everything, always!

    Yours in the struggle,

    Charles W. Richburg, III, Ed.D.

    • Dr. (Brother) Richburg:

      With great humility, I thank you for your kind words and encouragement. As you know, the impetus for writing the op-ed is to stimulate deeper discussions about the MBK Task Force’s great work and for greater national support for our boys and young men of color. I pay tribute to such students who have persisted and encourage others to forge forward. Your work deserves attention and I do hope the NSF funds your much needed project.

      It would be a please to visit with your wife and you while in Fayetteville. I will contact you in a separate email.

      Yours in the vineyard of higher education,


  2. Dr. DeSousa –

    I really enjoyed reading your submission. It is imperative that this dialogue continues to take place so that our young men of color can reach their full potential in any environment. As you stated, this is not the time for a cookie cutter approach. This initiative must be extremely influential and impactful in order to build our next generation of global leaders.

  3. Hello Dr. DeSousa,

    I enjoyed reading your article. I work at Bowie State University. Dr. Mickey Burnim, President of BSU, started the Male Initiative in 2009. The initiative aims to achieve higher retention and graduation rates for our male students. Activities include mentoring, speaker’s series, academic advisement and career workshops. We have connected with middle and high school male students as well. Many of our volunteers have attended My Brother’s Keeper roundtable forums. We, at Bowie State, applaud President Obama’s initiative that helps more young people stay on track.

    • Dr. Thomas, thank you for sharing the exciting news about Bowie State University’s male initiative. I am in DC over the next two days to attend the 2014 White House Initiative on HBCUs. I grateful that the staff of the WHI on HBCUs, including George Cooper and Ivory Tolson, incorporated a session on the question how can HBCU male initiatives undergird and support boys and collegiate men of color? As a panelist, I surely try to make mention of the fine work you and others are doing at BSU. One of several recommendations is as follows: “Similar to ‘Documenting Effective Educational Practices,’ which was an investigation by the NSSE Institute of 20 colleges and universities with higher-than-predicted graduation rates, identify high performing male initiatives and invest in them! Require these specially selected male initiatives to state and report on goals related to important metrics such as retention and graduation, DFW, and degree efficiency rates. Make them accountable for establishing measurable outcomes. Thus, these male initiatives can be studied, scalable, replicable, and models of success.”

      Any thoughts on this?

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