“I can’t get caught in the cynicism.”
As the former Cabinet secretary to President Barack Obama, Broderick Johnson knows the pressures that come with West Wing power. But in the latest episode of “Cape Up,” Johnson, who was a guest on the podcast in the waning days of the Obama administration, was reluctant to get into critiques of the Trump administration when I asked him about “alternative facts.” And he wouldn’t engage in any direct comparisons between the two White Houses.
“Different people have different reasons that they work in this administration, and I’m not going to get into that,” Johnson said when pushed on the question of loyalty. “The loyalty that we had toward President Obama and to the first lady was loyalty that very much extended to respect for the institutions and respect for the people of this country who are relying on us to make a difference. … It wasn’t like loyalty to party or loyalty to an individual, right? But it was deeper. It was much deeper.”
Johnson said he misses his public-service work. But he did carry over one duty from his White House days. Johnson helped run what was then called the My Brother’s Keeper task force, Obama’s second-term initiative to focus on and address the challenges facing young men and boys of color. Today, it is called the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBKA); it’s housed within the Obama Foundation, and Johnson is its chair.
“My Brother’s Keeper came to be because of President Obama’s vision, and it really drove a movement of people across the country,” Johnson told me. The 180-degree change in the stance of government agencies, such as the Justice Department, presents a challenge to MBKA’s goals, but Johnson said that can’t be an impediment to their work. “I don’t think we have to be hesitant about pointing out what issues challenge our young people and where the disparities are,” he said. “I think that’s where we especially have to be vocal, and we have to use data to point out where these disparities and these challenges are so that people understand it.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Johnson talk more about MBKA and how much young people miss the Obamas. But you don’t want to miss our discussion about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s epic essay on Trump and Johnson’s pushback on the assertion that African Americans have to work twice as hard as whites.
“Sometimes we just have to work hard, not twice as hard, but work real hard and demonstrate our intellect and to be bold,” Johnson said.