President Obama visit Lehman College to speak about youth initiative

(l-r) Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Al Sharpton at the event.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

President Obama visited Herbert H. Lehman College to announce a new part of an initiative designed to help urban youth, especially young men of color.

The President visited Lehman College in Bedford Park on Monday, May 4 to meet with young men of color from around the country in a roundtable discussion, and to launch a new part of an initiative he began in February 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps.

The visit brought jubilation to local leaders, and President Obama announced that the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance would now include a private-sector partnership with major corporate leaders and companies, an effort that will be led by Joe Echevarria, MBK Alliance CEO and chairman, who grew up in the south Bronx.

“Part of what we wanted to do was to make sure we heard directly from young people who oftentimes are growing up in really tough situations — single-parent households, low-income communities, crime-infested areas,” said President Obama after meeting with the youths, adding that they faced obstacles like being stopped by police for no reason, domestic abuse inside the home and situations where schools don’t seem invested in their success.

“And yet, despite all that,” the President continued, “these young men are succeeding in some remarkable ways. And part of what I heard from them was that they’re succeeding because somewhere along the line they’ve received a mentor, somebody who’s just paying attention to them and giving them some sense of direction.”

MBK Alliance will support program interventions targeting six key life milestones, including reading at grade level by 3rd grade, graduating from high school ready for college and career, and successfully entering the workforce.

To those ends, $80 million in in-kind and monetary donations have been raised for MBK Alliance, a new independent non-profit, from large corporations, and the organization has a board and leadership team that is a who’s who in business, sports, and many fields.

In the Bronx, the excitement of President Obama’s presence may have been almost as exciting as the new plans to help a sizable portion of its youth.

Congressman Jose Serrano said that the MBK Alliance is a chance to invest and change the lives of millions of boys and young men of color.

“As recent events in different parts of our nation and as data shows, we need to do more to level the playing field for African-American and Latino men in this country by supporting their development, supporting them through every important milestone of their life, and making sure they have access to the resources, support, and opportunities they need to thrive, succeed and give back to their communities,” said Serrano.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he was proud to be part of the historic visit.

“The President’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Alliance is working to eliminate and overcome the obstacles faced by so many young men of color,” said Heastie. “All too often, these young men face barriers to education, to employment, to economic opportunity.”

Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. said that the initiative, which combines both public and private resources for a greater good, is welcomed in the Bronx and around the country.

“I was thrilled to welcome President Obama to the Bronx today, but I am even more excited to hear his words,” said Diaz. “The President’s stated commitment to the future of urban youth, especially young men of color in the United States, through the launch of his ‘My Brother’s Keeper Alliance,’ is worthy of considerable praise.”

Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz said he was proud that the president came to his alma mater, Lehman College, to announce the priority initiative.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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