84ºF

‘My Brother's Keeper' nears launch in San Antonio

Federal initiative to take on Alamo City with target on nonwhite males

SAN ANTONIO – The city of San Antonio is nearing its start date for a federal initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2014.

My Brother’s Keeper, a program designed to keep nonwhite males in school, out of jail and on the right track, has been a special charge of San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor’s office.

While other programs aim to do many of the same things as My Brother’s Keeper, Taylor said there is an intrinsic difference in what My Brother’s Keeper will do in San Antonio -- not just in traditional areas of town targeted for its nonwhite populations -- but all over the city.

And in particular, she said, young men are the focus.

“I think the main distinction is the fact that we are actually getting together and talking specifically about these young men and the opportunities that are available to them, rather than always talking about their deficits or their negative impact on our collective society,” Taylor said. “And instead of just waiting for minority communities to address the issue, we’re looking at it as a community wide issue and problem that everyone needs to be involved in addressing.”

Trips to D.C.

Recently, Taylor traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with senior leaders of President Obama’s team. Michael Smith, who manages the initiative for Obama, talked with Taylor about MBK, as well as other pertinent issues like criminal justice reform.

Also on the agenda for Taylor and Smith was the topic of absenteeism. Taylor said San Antonio is among only a few cities in the nation to be invited to participate in addressing that effort.

Andrew Solano, who works in Taylor’s office, flew to Washington this week to meet with the team that will tackle the problem that plagues schools and hinders success.

Countdown

My Brother’s Keeper will officially launch in San Antonio in February.

In addition to focusing on absenteeism, Solano has been busy working to get the program off the ground, too.

“We have four goals: reducing crime and recidivism, attain high school education, postsecondary education or equal, and also getting a good job, workforce development,” he said.

The program will get a project manager, who Solano said has been identified and offered the position.

Corporate sponsors are also working with MBK in San Antonio. They include the United Way, Toyota and the Spurs.

Getting off the ground

So far, the action items have only been in the form of steering committees, community meetings and school surveys. But Solano is looking forward to more tangible proof of MBK in the city. When the February launch rolls around, the program will have been nearly 18 months in the making.

Solano said two pilot high schools will be a part of MBK, though he did not say which high schools. He said the project manager will be headquartered in the former Pfeiffer Elementary School building. Along with a truancy court to help graduation rates improve, Solano hopes the location will also be the base for other agencies like Workforce Solutions Alamo to provide resources for the youth.

“We are exploring the opportunity to co-locate with our partners in this effort,” said the organization’s director of external relations, Eva Esquivel. “The overlapping clientele of these organizations can only benefit from this partnership. The ‘one-stop’ concept has long been part of our mission and adding to the resources available in our workforce system only enhances that effort.”

Solano agreed, and said that the all-encompassing location helps everyone.

“It really is going to embody everything, so if we can have some space there, which is what we’re looking at -- to have the MBK project manager and their staff headquartered out of there -- we think you can do a lot of good,” Solano said. “We’re talking brick and mortar, we’re not just talking goals anymore, strategies and tactics. We’re saying these are actual, tangible programs that you can look to to say that we’re achieving this.”

In the community

Angelica Bravo sat on the porch one evening as her son, 3-year-old Aiden, played in their small near East Side yard. Cars and buses passed by in clusters every few minutes.

The chill in the air did not stop a tireless toddler from flexing his imaginative muscles as he played.

For Bravo, her son is everything.

“I hope for a lot of things for him, for him to grow up, be successful, not have him be influenced by all this negativity that’s around here,” she said.

Negativity for her means the East Side.

“There’s a lot of violence, more say deeper into the East Side, but everywhere around you you’re going to have negativity,” she said. “It’s just you never know who your child might come across and look up to them in a certain way and you would want them to be a leader and not a follower. I want my son to be a leader.”

Bravo’s son Aiden will be in the demographic that My Brother’s Keeper aims to target when he gets older: a nonwhite male.

Bravo thinks it’s unfair that children like Aiden are put into categories. No matter how innocent they are now, she said, the statistics puts them in a box.

Any ethnicity comes with challenges, Bravo said.

Sill, she said she thinks that a program like My Brother’s Keeper will do good for kids. Anything that helps fill in the gaps, she thinks, is good.

“I hope a lot of (young) kids … can look up to more older adults and look up to other kids older than them and have them influence them to become better and stronger and what they want to do,” Bravo said.

At that moment, Aiden came to the porch and held up his arms and flexed like a victorious wrestler.

“I’m stronger!” he said to his mom.

“Yes, you’re stronger!” Bravo replied before the little one took off for another lap around the front yard.

The name of the program

Taylor felt the program’s name is biblical in nature. Asked whether she thought My Brother’s Keeper sounded bureaucratic, the mayor laughed.

“It doesn’t sound bureaucratic at all,” she said.

What does the mayor want people who hear the name to think about what the program is?

“I hope they would think, well, who should I be looking out for? Because that’s what it’s about,” Taylor said.

Bravo thought the name might need a slight adjustment because it seems like another government program that would make people skeptical.

But if it achieves its goals, takes leaders and provides mentors to youth in the community, it would be worth it.

“To me, personally, I think that My Brother’s Keeper … is like making a statement about trying to help other people have an influence on other people,” Bravo said.

If there’s one change she would make, it would be providing the same resources to younger children.

Solano said the San Antonio Independent School District will be a major partner, but he reiterated that My Brother’s Keeper will include all areas of town to impact as many young men as possible.

“The whole purpose of the program is for us to figure out how we can better collaborate, coordinate, invest resources, that improve life outcomes for those that are most at-risk in our community, specifically minority males, young African-American and Latino males who study after study has shown have higher rates of incarceration, higher rates of recidivism, lower rates of educational attainment and achievement, lower earnings and in many cases, shorter life spans,” Taylor said.

She believes in the effort as something everyone can support. Ultimately, she said, everyone pays the price for negative outcomes.

Special thanks to KSAT Graphics Coordinator David Elder.