Am I my brother’s keeper? The President wishes we all would be.

Wearing their Morehouse College maroon blazers, freshmen Jevian Gudger, right, and Noah McQueen, left, spoke to students at Drew Charter School today as part of My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative. (Facebook photo.)

Of all the inspiring vignettes shared today at a Drew Charter School panel on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, Morehouse College freshman Jevian Gudger’s experience will likely stick with students in the audience.

Accepted to Morehouse, the Washington, D.C., teen said his family told him he wouldn’t be able to attend the Atlanta college because of the cost. Gudger bought a ticket on a Megabus and arrived in Atlanta at 2 in the morning. He waited at Morehouse for the administrative offices to open to plead his case for financial aid. He presented his case effectively, saying, “I ended up getting $20,000 for each year.”

Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper in 2014 to address the troubling educational and life outcomes of black and Hispanic males. Panelist Michael D. Smith, special assistant to the President and senior director of cabinet affairs for My Brother’s Keeper, shared some of the distressing statistics that prompted Obama’s involvement:

•One in two young black men grew up without dads in the home.

•Eighty percent of black and Latino boys were not reading at grade level in third grade, the year when learning to read has to broaden to reading to learn.

•Black boys were 6 percent of the nation’s population, but almost half of the nation’s murder victims.

“Our economy will fall apart if we continue to write you off,” Smith told the boys in the audience. “We’ve got to do everything we can so young people who look like you know they have clear pathways to success.”

James Cole Jr. of the U.S. Department of Education said he grew up in poverty — food stamps and no lights when the power bill wasn’t paid.  He embraced education because “I just didn’t want to be poor.” A law degree and impressive legal career lifted him out of poverty into a New York brownstone, an Atlanta condo, a Land Rover and an office with a private bathroom, he said.

“I am just as happy as a person can possibly be. I can assure you it is all because of education,” said Cole, who, in January, became the USDOE’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, overseeing a range of operational, management, policy, legal and program functions including My Brother’s Keeper Task Force.

(The loudest applause from students erupted after Cole, in response to a boy’s question about standardized testing, said, “We believe there is generally too much testing.”)

The federal officials on the panel touted the benefits of participating in My Brother’s Keeper, such as finding adult mentors. The equally important message for kids — underscored by Gudger’s comments — is the role of personal drive and perseverance.

Guidance and opportunity are wasted if students don’t step up. For example, many students tell me they want to be journalists. Although I routinely encourage aspiring writers to send me possible columns, few follow through with submissions. I’ve also talked to business owners who partnered with schools to mentor students but the teens didn’t show up for meetings or missed work.

This is not unique to poor kids; plenty of middle-class kids squander opportunity even when gift-wrapped by their parents or their parents’ social networks and delivered to their doorstep.

Gudger stressed to the Drew students they can influence their futures, no matter what anyone else contends. Long told he lacked a knack for math, Gudger said he had a C on the midterm, but ended up with an A minus.

His parting comment to Drew students is good advice for all kids: “Don’t let anybody determine your fate. You determine your fate.”



Reader Comments 1


I am glad the the President has spoken on this issue. It is, however, an issue that only he seems able to broach without getting hammered as a racist hater.

Kudos to the young man from D.C. who took the initiative and succeeded. 


An excerpt from President Obama's Commencement Address at Hampton University on May 7, 2016, which is related to this thread:

"What’s at stake is more than our ability to outcompete other nations.  It’s our ability to make democracy work in our own nation.  Now, years after he left office, decades after he penned the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson sat down, a few hours’ drive from here, in Monticello, and wrote a letter to a longtime legislator, urging him to do more on education.  And Jefferson gave one principal reason –- the one, perhaps, he found most compelling. 'If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,' he wrote, 'it expects what never was and never will be.'

What Jefferson recognized, like the rest of that gifted founding generation, was that in the long run, their improbable experiment –- called America –- wouldn’t work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were apathetic, if its citizens checked out, and left democracy to those who didn’t have the best interests of all the people at heart.  It could only work if each of us stayed informed and engaged; if we held our government accountable; if we fulfilled the obligations of citizenship.

The success of their experiment, they understood, depended on the participation of its people -– the participation of Americans like all of you.  The participation of all those who have ever sought to perfect our union." 


Good for the kid.  Good for Morehouse. At last, a pleasant story about black youth.


Yes, President Obama is correct. We should be our brothers' keepers in the United States. Imo, if all of us were to return to that level of spiritual understanding, our nation might be able to heal itself

Another comment
Another comment

The black community keeps stepping in its own way. The insistence that everyone is going to be a rapper, a football player or a basketball player is so persuasive. Then the insistence that these kids that come close to having a shot at the NFL or NBA drop out of school at the earliest possible moment to support momma and all the other dysfunctional relatives. We need to get through the message you owe no one but your self first.

I volunteered at my daughters school. I was asked to help a couple of kids. One was one whose parents had him out on the football field, everyday. Followed by basketball, then next sport up. He could not read. I got him up to grade level. Bought him books. The father was receptive. The mother was let's say a self centered piece of work. The kid got an SEC football scholarship and was shocking even an SEC academic all American. Of course, he got the advantage most black boys don't get, I gave him the one on one tutoring and had him reading on grade level at the end of second grade. Now with two years of eligibility he announced he was entering the draft. Because of his mother. Coaches everyone said it was a big mistake. No one drafted him, he will be lucky to make a practice team. No degree, through that all out the window despite good grades. One more year and his draft stock would have been higher. Having met this train wreck of a mother, I could have seen this coming.

Happened with a Black girl, I mentored to get into college. Ran her around, ACT, applications, tours, vaccinations, etc.. Her mother sabatoged her to. Luckily, after one semester out and a $10/hr job, she decided she didn't want to be stuck with that life. She is back in school and doing well.

Anyone white or black has to ignore the sabatoge coming from their family of origin that does not want them to be successful.


@Another comment  You shouldn't stereotype a group of people because of two experiences you had with black students. You don't know ALL of the successful African-Americans that are not football players, or rappers. 


It's nearly 3 out of 4 black children that grow up without a father in the home.

But if Pres. Obama has the figure wrong, what he has right is the life-changing disadvantage which irresponsible parents inflict on their offspring. As recently as the 1960s "only" 25% of black children suffered this.

Why has his administration done nothing to address the problem? Why isn't child abandonment by black fathers at least as stigmatized as bullying or tobacco use?


  1. […] Ellen was writing her piece, I was covering a panel Monday at Drew Charter School in east Atlanta where coincidentally a panelist mentioned the term […]