U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined advocates for Black youth at Bowie State University Oct. 3. There they participated in a briefing on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which addresses persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color.

The event was held at the home of the Bulldogs due to the successes of the university’s male initiative. Bowie’s initiative, established in 2009 by Mickey L. Burnim, president of the university, was designed to help male students reach their full potential by developing their academic, personal, and social skills.

Hoyer and Cardin were joined by Roy Austin, director of the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity at the White House Domestic Policy Council; Michael Smith, director of the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service; Brandee McHale, chief operations officer of Citi Foundation; and Darryl Smith, JP Morgan Chase and Co. vice president of Relations Management and Office of Corporate Responsibilities.

My Brother’s Keeper was brought into perspective by Obama in February to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their outcomes in life and overcome barriers to success.

Part of this initiative was the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, established to review public and private sector programs, policies, and strategies, and determine ways the federal government can better support these efforts.  The task force was also charged with determining how to better involve state and local officials, the private sector, and the philanthropic community.

“We need to know the importance of young people and them pushing and pursuing their dreams,” Hoyer told the capacity audience at the university. “It’s easier to build up boys, than to repair broken men. We can help them avoid the disparities of poverty and despair. Get on and stay on the path to college and their dreams.”

More than 100 mayors, county officials, and tribal nations have already accepted the “My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge.” It is an effort to encourage communities to implement a coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy aimed at improving life outcomes for all young people, to help all youth achieve their full potential. Some of the main goals for the initiative’s challenge are that all children enter school cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally prepared, read at grade level by third grade, graduate from high school and complete post-secondary education or training. All of the youth out of school are employed and that all young people are safe from violent crime.

The challenge calls upon mayors, tribal leaders, town and county executives, encouraging them to take the following steps within 45 days of accepting the challenge: convene a local action summit with key public and private sector stakeholders to assess needs, determine priorities and decide what combination of the above objectives they will tackle. Within six months of accepting the challenge, communities should publicly launch a plan of action for accomplishing their goals, which will include a protocol for tracking data, benchmarks for tracking progress, and a blueprint for how the community would resource its efforts.

The university’s initiative focuses on the advancement of male students at Bowie State through mentoring, a speaker’s series, and academic and career workshops.  The motive is to achieve higher retention and graduation rates for male students.

Oluwatobi Owolabi who joined in 2013 said in a statement, “Participating in the BSU Male Initiative provided me with strong campus leadership on many, if not all, of the challenges I faced.  I was paired with a mentor who served as a valuable resource and introduced me to others with prior experience in my chosen career path.  This invaluable insight enabled me to construct a sturdy blueprint to assist in achieving goals.”