Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, speaks to reporters prior to the start of the Ohio Democratic Party State Dinner at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Oct. 7. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Casey Cascaldo

The Kirwan Institute launched My Brother’s Keeper Ohio on Tuesday, the first statewide coalition of individuals and communities committed to the success of boys and young men of color in Ohio.

The network is part of the larger My Brother’s Keeper nationwide initiative created by former President Barack Obama in 2014. The program features nationwide chapters and is centered on improving opportunities — such as education and employment — for young, minority men.

“It’s not a single program, or a series of programs. It’s an initiative that sets to change the narrative about boys and young men of color,” said Kyle Strickland, senior legal analyst for the Kirwan Institute. “That they deserve to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams, regardless of circumstance, regardless of background.”

Several prominent speakers were featured at the event, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who helped establish My Brother’s Keeper chapters across Ohio. Brown spoke about the importance of strategizing in order to close the disparities for minority youth.

“This work is so critical to make MBK a success,” Brown said. “We need a long-term strategy that allows students without the opportunity that some of us in this room have had, students that are looking for a mentor, students that are looking for guidance [and] students that we want to reach their full potential.”

Ohio State will serve as the lead coordinator for the initiative, providing resources for other My Brother’s Keeper chapters, Strickland said.

“We’re going to support communities by leveraging strategic partnerships and community assets towards systemic change,” Strickland said.

He added that My Brother’s Keeper Ohio evolved from Kirwan’s own I Am My Brother’s Keeper program, which included hands-on services, such as mentoring and tutoring.

“What we decided to do was shift away from the direct service providing and become a researcher and evaluator and really serve our role of helping others have models for programs that address disparities faced by boys and young men of color,” he said.

The Kirwan Institute began to work closely with Brown’s office to conceptualize the idea for My Brother’s Keeper Ohio.

“In the beginning of 2018 we’ve had some discussions with Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office about what the possibility would be to actually build out a statewide network, how do we help build this coalition and to make sure our efforts are streamlined,” Strickland said.

My Brother’s Keeper Ohio is composed of 12 network communities, including larger cities such as Columbus and Cleveland, as well as smaller cities like Mansfield and Lima.

Brown said it is equally as important to recognize disadvantaged minorities in the smaller cities as the bigger cities because they’re often overlooked.

“We’re paying a special attention not just to Cleveland and Columbus and Cincinnati, the big cities, but cities like where I grew up [in] Mansfield and Lima and Springfield,” he said. “In cities that too often get ignored, but have significant populations of people of color, and too often are ignored by policymakers, too often are represented by people who don’t pay enough attention to them.”