Initiative aims to connect the dots in helping at-risk youth in Baton Rouge

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration recently announced the relaunch of an initiative known as My Brother’s Keeper, which seeks to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their fullest potential.

If that sounds like the mission of a lot of nonprofit organizations around Baton Rouge, it kind of is. But officials in the Broome administration say MBK BR is not just another well-intended organization or program.

Rather, it’s an initiative, indirectly seeded with money from the federal CARES Act of 2020, that is trying to connect the dots among existing programs and organizations to better address the needs of primarily young men and boys of color in underserved communities in Baton Rouge.

“Our goal is to address the persistent opportunity gaps for young boys and men of color and make sure all youth have opportunity to reach their full potential,” says Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Courtney Scott. “How do we advance those opportunities? How do we bring all the organizations that are working on this together?”

MBK, which was founded nationally by the Obama Foundation in 2014 and briefly attempted locally during former Mayor Kip Holden’s administration, is an element of the larger Safe, Hopeful, Healthy initiative the Broome administration launched last September, after receiving $2 million in CARES Act money to address public safety amid the pandemic.

Of that, some $25,000 has been set aside for the relaunch of MBK, specifically, to develop a website and support technical assistance costs for a strategic plan for the initiative that will be developed by a steering committee.

So far, no company or organization has been retained by the city-parish to work on the initiative or the planning process, though Rev. Raymond Jetson’s Metromorphosis organization is helping to provide some technical assistance free of charge, he says.

“We will be reaching out to organizations, community- and faith-based groups, private businesses, government entities that touch those areas where boys and men of color are found and we want to seek to coordinate and identify ways for them to work together,” Jetson says. “We’re just helping to connect the dots.”

Capital Area United Way Executive Director George Bell is leading the steering committee process and says he sees MBK BR as a “framework” for aligning efforts.

“My interest in it is driven by the fact that we fund many of the organizations that are participating so it allows us to have a real clear understanding of where the need is, what needs are going unmet and how can we meet collaboratively and collectively to address those needs.”

Organizations like 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, which provides mentoring to at-risk boys and young men, is among the groups that will be working under the MBK umbrella, says Trey Godrey, executive director of 100 Black Men.

“We’re boots on the ground,” Godfrey says. “MBK is bringing together organizations to share resources, share information and do things to best equip Black men and boys. We’ve kind of come out of different silos and decided to stand together in this initiative.”