Last week the My Brother’s Keeper Task force issued their 90-day progress report. I, of course, couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I went straight to the executive summary (a neat trick I learned in public policy school) to review the recommendations and get a sense of what to expect in my intense skim of the rest of the report. Now remember, President Obama and his task force team made headlines with the launching of this new initiative is working alongside the White House initiative on African American excellence, the various campaigns for men of color, Black Male Achievement, etc. to leverage government, philanthropic, nonprofit and corporate partners to find a solution to the problem.
Okay, now back to policy school, what exactly is the problem? The problem is that the life outcomes for African American, Latino, Native American, Southeast Asian and other under served men of color, are far below those of their white and more privileged counterparts. Ok, so I'm thinking that's part of the problem but what's the rest of it? - Well, we can also say that the problem is that these men of color are dropping out of school, spiking rates of violence and crime, populating the unemployment line, and exhibiting self-defeating behaviors in general. Ok, more descriptive but something is still missing in this problem definition. So third try: The problem is that men of color suffering from abject poverty and the conditions that stem from a lack of resources structural barriers to success and an unmet American Dream are not offered the same rights and privileges as their counterparts and thus the problem is in fact not even their own problem. Wow, mind blown.
They didn't actually say it but what I got from the reading of it was that these men don't have the problem – society has the problem. The negative outcomes are a result of a larger societal condition. So really the problem definition is flawed in that the ownership of the problem has not been properly placed. Society has the problem because the inevitable outgrowths of these young men’s economic, social and political disadvantages have been fulfilled and now society is wondering what happened. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE wants to figure out how to save these boys and so what we got in that report was our marching orders.
Great! Well, not quite.. We actually got a compilation of things we've been saying for years. It seems to me that we got the skeleton with no actual meat. Sure, there is good work being done. Yes, it's great to provide national coverage of the issue (even when the problem is slightly off in definition). Wonderful, we now have brought the key players to the table. And fantastic, that we have a vision for what can be done from changes to school suspension and truancy policy to workforce development training adjustments and from early childhood literacy programs to increased parenting support. Everyone has certainly had their say so but no one has acknowledged their role in the problem. That's a post for another day, by the way.
The report was full, nicely articulated, provided vision; it gave me hope and made me happy. Certainly, it was all those things and it did all of those things but it didn't tell me the how. The science and art of implementation would be the only step worth taking now that's it's all been laid out (remember we've seen the ideas before). How does one secure the buy in from the leveraged parties? How should programs be structured so that everyone's bottom line is met? Walk with me for a second - if nonprofits need numbers served to secure and maintain funds, employers need skilled talent pools to choose from, electeds have constituencies to represent, and philanthropists just want to do right by the world - how haven't we come up with the right way to meet these baseline needs and share that model? The point I'm making is that I want to know what it all looks like. Who plays what role? Who does what? And how are we evaluating the impact? We need policies and politics to translate into programs and that is where this report left me hanging. If I would have seen a logic model or program guide of some sort I would be assured that the task force is taking the mantles and providing true oversight, as I suspect the federal government and President is rightfully positioned to do so. We didn't get that far yet but what we did is manage to complicate the problem by leaving out everyone's role in shaping it. Everyone's bottom line is clear yet the problem remains persistent and outcomes unchanging? Something hasn't added up and I think we could all benefit from the exercise of implementation. Once we crack that "ooh this works" code, I imagine we will find that the problem isn't so obvious and maybe everyone can benefit from a rehashing of the going narrative and it's process. In other words, maybe the process of working towards the solution in practice (not on paper) would help us to reimagine the problem itself. Just a thought for our next step but I’m onboard nonetheless. Check out the full report!