Not enough, says a group of concerned women and girls, who have signed a letter to the president, calling for inclusion in his private-public initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper.” 

 

The initiative, which the Obama Administration announced in February, brings together foundations, nonprofits, and businesses to address the social, economic, and judicial challenges facing young men of color. Inequalities within schools and the criminal justice system are its urgent focus, alongside increasing mentoring and strengthening families in minority communities. 

But for the 1,200 women who signed the letter—including activists Angela Davis, Rosie Perez, Alice Walker, and Janet Mock—this approach leaves young women of color “waiting for the next train.”  Some 200 black men signed a similar letter last month asking the president to include their sisters in the initiative.

“We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility, and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention in the messaging, research and resourcing of this unprecedented Initiative,” the petitioners write in a statement posted by the African American Policy Forum. “When we acknowledge that both our boys and girls struggle against the odds to succeed, and we dream about how, working together, we can develop transformative measures to help them realize their highest aspirations, we cannot rest easy on the notion that the girls must wait until another train comes for them.” 

Some of the critical policy issues of President Obama’s second term, such as LGBT rights, education and health care reform, will affect women of color, but signers of the letter are looking for specific, intentional efforts to improve the lives of Black and Latina women and girls. 

It’s worth noting that in 2009, the Obama Administration created the White House Council on Women and Girls, chaired by adviser Valerie Jarrett, “to ensure that federal programs and policies address and take into account the distinctive concerns of women and girls, including women of color and those with disabilities.” 

Since its creation, the council has championed equal pay, higher representation of women in STEM careers, and broader steps to prevent violence against women. It is a continuation of the Clinton Administration’s White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach, which the George W. Bush Administration quietly closed in 2001. 

“Our youth do need help, they need to be shown that they matter and all of them need a targeted initiative, and that doesn’t mean reducing it to boys of color.  That is the move we are asking them not to make,” Kristie Dotson, a philosophy professor at Michigan State University, told the Washington Post. “We applaud the initiative, now let’s talk about who needs to be included in it and targeted. Black boys can’t afford to have black girls not be a central part of this discussion.”

In at least one way, Joe Brewster sounds like most fathers.

“I want my son to have the best education possible,” he says in the opening scene of this clip from “American Promise,” a short film that he and his wife Michelle Stephenson created to detail their son’s experiences at an elite Manhattan prep school.

Idris Brewster, a 5-year-old African-American boy from Brooklyn, would be one of few minority students at the Dalton School, where 2013 tuition is more than $40,000 per year. His parents switched on the camera once he was admitted. The impulse grew into an attempt to capture his entire K-12 educational career on film.

“We were embarking on this journey and having the camera around became a tool to process our journey,” Stephenson says.

In this extended trailer, viewers see that journey through Idris’ eyes: a school suspension he experiences as unfair, the pressure his parents apply that he outperform his peers, a cab that would pick him up, but not his friends.

Both parents are accomplished—Brewster attended Harvard and trained as a psychiatrist before becoming a filmmaker; Stephenson, daughter of immigrants, graduated from Columbia Law School. They make it clear that they have high expectations for their son and want him to be able to navigate being a black man in America.

“American Promise” won the Special Jury award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and will air on PBS in 2014. For more on “American Promise,” visit americanpromise.org.