President Obama deserves high praise for his continuing efforts to counsel and rescue boys and men of color and promote their well-being.
His 2014 initiative, My Brother's Keeper — with $300 million in private funding — must be going gangbusters. In early May, the president proudly announced a nonprofit spinoff called My Brother's Keeper Alliance.
"This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency but for the rest of my life," President Obama said. "It's a big deal."
I'll say. The MBK Alliance adds another $80 million dollars-plus in pledges from companies and foundations, all of it dedicated to helping boys and young men finish school, go to college, train for jobs, and just as importantly, feel loved and listened to.
"So my message to ... all young men out there and young boys who aren't in this room," Obama said the day the Alliance was launched. "I want you know you matter. You matter to us."
Bravo, I say. Now let's get Michelle and Hillary into the organic White House garden, plus Sasha, Malia and Chelsea and ask: "What's up with this? Why are the boys getting all this cash and concern while our girls are living on fumes?"
This is America. Girls matter, too. Ask any father. Girls suffer, too. Millions of girls and young women are feeling hopeless and scared, quitting school, fighting off sexual predators, going to jail in record numbers.
The data has been thin, but now it's clear. Girls in America, especially girls of color, are growing up deprived, denied, desperate for the same mentoring programs, the same conflict resolution programs, the same job training promised to boys by the MBK Initiative.
The $380 million dollar question is: Why embrace only boys and deny girls the well-being every child deserves?
I've been digging into this issue a lot lately. It's complicated. And heartbreaking.
In my hometown of Chicago, I work with a stellar nonprofit called Girls in the Game. It has 20 years of experience and success delivering healthy lifestyle programs to thousands of girls from low-income neighborhoods.
Much of the board's time is spent raising funds, so you can imagine how excited we were to learn that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's initiative called Get in Chicago had raised $46 million private dollars aimed at "reducing youth violence," and "helping every child succeed."
But in fact, Get In Chicago followed the lead of My Brother's Keeper. My best sources tell me that in the first two rounds of funding, more than 90 percent of the money went to the boys.
What! Is this true? And if so, why? This May we learned why. The Institute for Women's Policy Research did a thorough analysis of the interim report by My Brother's Keeper, called MBK90.
It was sponsored by and posted on the African-American Policy Forum website.
Here's the bombshell: The MBK initiative is based on misinformation and myth. The assumption that males of color are more needy and have it worse than females is "a common but erroneous belief," the WPR team reports.
"By excluding girls and women of color without making a data-based case for doing so, the initiative and report seem to rely on widely held stereotypes that minority males face the greatest barriers and have the least opportunities."
Not true when comparing minority girls to white boys. In fact, of the 44 indicators that the MBK90 report tracks to help determine a boy's well-being, there are 11 where females do worse than males, including higher rates of poverty, and higher rates of "maltreatment," which translates to much higher rates of sexual and physical violence. None of that is included in the MBK90 report.
"Black girls ... are the fastest growing population in the [juvenile justice] system," according to another hair-curling AAPF report called "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected," also available on the website. Girls of color are being expelled and suspended from school in record numbers.
The list of shocking statistics goes on, and so must this smart, dedicated, data-driven effort to reframe the MBK initiative and Get In Chicago to make them more inclusive and reflect reality.
But of all the difficulties girls face growing up, there's one statistic that says it all: The AAPF reports that while over $100 million philanthropic dollars have been spent in the last decade targeting black and Latino boys, less than one million dollars has been given to programs that target black and Latino girls and women.
This is what gender bias looks like.
And one more thing: It's counterproductive to pit men against women, boys against girls. It's not either/or. It's both. The way forward calls for cooperation, community and compassion. We must be our sisters' keepers, too.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! GIRLS ARE KIDS, TOO
"What this comes down to is: Do we love these kids?" — President Obama
Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle expert, well being coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to [email protected] She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.