President Obama waves before delivering remarks during a My Brother’s Keeper summit last month. (Zach Gibson/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

“There have been sensitive moments where the message to be delivered was not necessarily a message that the Cabinet secretary may have wanted to hear.”

The message was coming from President Obama. And Broderick Johnson was the man he entrusted with delivering it. But as the Cabinet secretary and assistant to the president, Johnson’s messenger role goes both ways. He ensures that the Cabinet has the president’s ear.

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“This president’s Cabinet is extraordinary and extraordinarily loyal,” Johnson told me, “and very much aware throughout the time I’ve been here, what the president’s priorities are, and how what it is that they do fits within the president’s priorities or not.”

One of Obama’s priorities has been his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a public-private partnership that trained the convening power of the presidency on the plight of young men and boys of color. And Johnson was the man he entrusted to shepherd it as chairman of the White House task force. This assignment, which took on urgency after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, was as much policy as it was personal for Johnson, a black man.


Broderick Johnson, assistant to the president, Cabinet secretary and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, talks with The Post’s Jonathan Capehart during an interview for the “Cape Up” podcast on Dec. 20 in his office in the West Wing of the White House. (Carol Alderman/The Washington Post)

“I’d had conversations with him before Trayvon Martin about what could he do as president to use his bully pulpit and his convening power and his power and authority as president over federal agencies to really move the needle and to start to do something more transformative to affect the lives of boys and young men of color, brown and black boys especially,” Johnson said. “But without question, when Trayvon Martin was killed and then there was a trial, it was at that moment he decided I need to do this and do this now.”

Listen to the podcast to hear Johnson recount personal stories from his MBK work, find out how safe regulations are from the incoming Trump administration and whether Johnson believes that folks will rise up to protect the programs they care about.

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.