BUILDing Strong Foundations

Reflections on Father’s Day

6/22/2015 12:00:00 AM
Posted by: Meghan

Ruth Trombka
Editor and Writer, BUILD Initiative

“What we’ve…understood for too long is that some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them; that there’s a tragic history in this country that has made it tougher for some. And folks living in those communities, and especially young people living in those communities, could use some help to change those odds…It’s true for young people of color, especially boys and young men.” 
– President Barack Obama

Father’s Day is a day for children to celebrate their dads and revel in a home in which they are cared for and loved. But while many children spent this past Sunday in a place in which they have learned that life holds endless possibilities, others, many of them boys and young men of color, experienced a day with fewer givens, including access to quality early education. Their hopes for the future were likely more modest than boundless.

It was with these children in mind that President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative in February 2014. MBK is a call to action for government, businesses, nonprofits, schools, districts, and individuals to commit to making a difference in the lives of our nation’s young people by building and executing locally-driven plans with a focus on achieving excellence and equity from birth through adolescence and in to early adulthood. As Dawn Porter, documentarian and creator of “Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper,” which was televised this Father’s Day, said in a recent Washington Post interview, MBK “may be helping to change the negative narrative that all too often accompanies images of young men of color.”

Milestones Missed?

That MBK had to be created in the first place speaks to the critical situation of many of our youngest children. The six milestones on which it is focused are unspoken assumptions for children born into the “right circumstances.” They are:

  • Getting a healthy start and entering school ready to learn.
  • Reading at grade level by third grade.
  • Graduating from high school ready for college and career.
  • Completing postsecondary education or training.
  • Successfully entering the workforce.
  • Keeping kids on track and giving them second chances.

Racial Equity in Early Childhood

Unfortunately, we know that these opportunity gaps and negative narratives about young boys of color begin early, and often with young children’s first interactions with institutions outside of their families. The data bear this out. For example, “black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.” A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, Inequality at the Starting Gate, looked at how race influences how parents and teachers perceive children’s non-cognitive skills. The researchers found that “parents’ and teachers’ assessments of the same students’ non-cognitive skills vary by race…black children are doing fine on these skills according to their parents, but lagging according to their teachers.”

President Obama has sent a clear message that the lives of young men – all young men – matter. He has inspired us at BUILD to continue to advocate for the development of an equitable early childhood system that meets the needs of all children, one that pays explicit attention to a number of gaps that exist – by income, race/ethnicity, language, and culture – both in child outcomes and opportunities and systems’ capacity and response. All children should be given the chance to dream. It’s a goal we know you agree is worth thinking about every Father’s Day – and all year long.

We urge you to learn more about the MBK Alliance and its mission to improve the school experiences and life outcomes of young people, regardless of their backgrounds. And, check out First School, Sembrando Semillas and the Head Start Multicultural Principles for examples of efforts being made to change the odds.


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