University alum Broderick Johnson, White House cabinet secretary and chair of the administration’s My Brother’s Keeper task force, delivered a lecture about his experiences in the White House at the Ford School of Public Policy Monday afternoon.  

Johnson — who received his law degree from the University — joined President Barack Obama’s administration in 2013.

During his address, Johnson spoke of his experiences working closely with Obama and his leadership in My Brother’s Keeper, a program created by Obama that aims to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by young men of color.

Johnson himself grew up in lower-class areas of Baltimore, he told the crowd. He said the foundation for the program was prompted by the death of Travyvon Martin, a Black teen, in 2012.

“The president spoke about anger and angst after the death of Trayvon Martin,” Johnson said. “He and I talked about what we could do to use the power of the presidency to go big on this and do something significant.”

Six guidelines drive the program: preparing young boys for school, ensuring they have the ability to read by grade three, making sure boys graduate from high school in preparation for college, ensuring they complete postsecondary education, entering the workforce and, most importantly, giving the population targeted second chances.

“Boys and young men of color are more likely to live in concentrated poverty, attend poorly funded schools,” Johnson said. “They too often receive harsh punishments and are least likely to be given a second chance … we can’t have millions of young people missing from this society.”

Johnson also spoke about the extension of My Brother’s Keeper into the private sector. Through the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the program also corresponds with the NBA. Their program, the “In Real Life Campaign,” aims to connect every child who wants a mentor with a player and to share some of the backgrounds of NBA players.

Johnson said more than 200 communities have pledged to be My Brother’s Keeper communities to combat current statistics on educational achievement for young men of color. Last year, Johnson said, 4,000 three- and four-year-olds were suspended from preschool. He also noted that young Black men, who comprise 6 percent of the population, account for more than half of all homicides in the nation.

“(My Brother’s Keeper) is about disrupting the status quo, where everyone has a fair shot and everyone is in the game,” Johnson said. “While social transformation is complex and measured over decades, I can personally see that we are getting closer and closer every day, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Beyond his talk on My Brother’s Keeper, Johnson also discussed his work as cabinet secretary and relationship with Obama. Despite nearing the end of his term, Johnson said the administration has plans to continue its work.

He touched on several memorable moments he shared with the Obamas: crossing the bridge in Selma, and many briefings in the Oval Office.

“Working in the White House is the hardest job I have ever had,” Johnson said. “As cabinet secretary, we have surreal and unexpected challenges with a Congress that has a lot of challenges within itself. It’s been my distinct honor to get to know the president as a friend. He is quite an amazing human being. It’s hard but incredibly rewarding.” 

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