NEW YORK — President Obama on Monday announced the formation of a corporate-backed nonprofit organization to help boys and young men of color, describing it as a group that will outlast his presidency and advance his administration’s goal of achieving greater racial and social justice.
The organization will focus on improving early childhood education, keeping black and Latino boys out of the criminal justice system, and on preparing young men to be more successful when entering the workforce, he said.
Speaking a week after riots scarred Baltimore, Obama said decades of disadvantage had sowed discontent in minority communities. Righting those conditions, he said, will take a “sustained” effort far exceeding the 20 months he has left in office.
“These kids are all our kids. We will profit by or pay for whatever they become,” Obama said. “This will remain a mission for me and for [first lady Michelle Obama], not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.”
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The organization, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, follows a public-private partnership by almost the same name that Obama has used to attract more than $300 million in donations over the past year. That group, he said, has studied key points in the lives of young black men at which greater engagement could make the biggest difference. That’s where the alliance will focus, he said.
On Monday, the White House announced a lengthy list of corporate donors, including the chief executives of Sam’s Club, Deloitte Consulting, PepsiCo and Sprint, who would be founding members of the board and had committed $80 million in “in-kind and financial donations” to get the alliance off the ground.
Also in attendance on Monday were the board’s honorary chairman, singer John Legend, and board member and former NBA star Alonzo Mourning.
Before the alliance’s first board meeting, however, the White House on Monday faced a growing list of questions about how the administration would keep transparent its work on behalf of the organization — and vice versa — and how the companies that underwrite the president’s favored initiative would not gain special access or favor during the remainder of his term.
[Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper group raises $300 million]
The launching of the alliance comes as questions continue to mount over whether contributions to the foundation created by former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, influenced her work and advocacy efforts as secretary of state.
Asked about the potential pitfalls of the relationship, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would not be on the organization’s board and would not be involved in decisions about contributions, or the alliance’s policies regarding them.
“The Obama administration will have no role in deciding how donations are screened and what criteria they will set at the alliance for donor policies because it is an entirely separate entity,” Earnest said.
He cast Obama’s work in helping the alliance as a “different way the president can wield his authority,” Earnest said. “The president has a pretty substantial platform to advocate for the kind of changes that he would like to see in the country.”
“This is one example of, essentially, the president using his phone to mobilize the business community in support of national priorities,” Earnest said.
Earnest cast it as no different from the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, or job training efforts sought by the administration that businesses have volunteered to implement.
Regardless, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance seems certain to play a large part in Obama’s life after the White House.
[Obama launches My Brother’s Keeper]
Standing on a stage at a mostly minority college in the Bronx on Monday, Obama repeated a call he made last week for national “soul searching” on the issues of racial and social justice after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Citing the unrest again Monday evening at a $10,000-a-plate Democratic fundraiser at a private home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Obama said, “this is not a project that stops after a certain point in office. . . . This is something we have to sustain.”
But it will be corporations that fund the work, not government.
Speaking before Obama took the stage in the Bronx, Joe Echevarria, the interim head of the alliance and the recently retired chief executive of Deloitte LLP, applauded the businesses that agreed to help launch the organization.
“The companies that have agreed to contribute and participate are all sitting in this room; there is a press kit that tells you who they are,” Echevarria said. “Those people not only bring their money, their brand, their persons, but they also bring their passion.”