On Friday, the White House announced its involvement with a new initiative to support the lives of women and girls of color. The phrase “My Brother’s Keeper” wasn’t uttered once by those who spoke as part of the daylong launch, but Friday’s announcement was a victory for the many who have critiqued the president’s initiative targeting men and boys of color since it was announced in February of last year. After nearly two years of pointing out that any racial justice initiative with the administration’s support must be also be responsive to the needs of girls and women, advocates and intellectuals concerned with the education, health, safety, and economic well-being of communities of color more broadly saw the White House respond.
The Obama administration, specifically the White House Council on Women and Girls, is not acting alone. As with My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), the initiative announced last week relies on funds from the philanthropic community. Whereas MBK began with a $200 million commitment from foundations and grew to include additional funds and in-kind donations from corporations, this new effort is fueled in part by $100 million from 20 public women’s foundations. According to the collaborative of funders, this money will go toward supporting job training programs and childcare access for low-income women. Academic and research institutions, led by the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, have pledged an additional $18 million toward research and data collection on women and girls of color. (Full disclosure: The Nation is among the public-interest institutions signed on to the research efforts, and one of its contributing editors, Melissa Harris-Perry, is the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center.)
Obama did not address the group gathered Friday, but Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president was a presence throughout the day. “You’re right, it should be a billion dollars,” Jarrett said at one point, responding to a comment that the scope of the problem requires a greater financial investment. “What we want is to make sure that we build sufficient momentum,” she continued. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Cecilia Muñoz, assistant to the president and director of the Domestic Policy Council, also addressed the White House gathering.
The administration’s evolution has been evident over time. Most notably, President Obama devoted much of his speech at an event hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus in September to recognizing the contributions of and challenges facing black women. “Black women have been a part of every great movement in American history, even if they weren’t always given a voice,” he said at the time. Discussing the devastation wrought by incarceration, he acknowledged, “Although in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African-American men and the work we’re doing with My Brother’s Keeper, we can’t forget the impact that the system has on women, as well. The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women.”