Nutter on My Brother’s Keeper: Progress, but More Work to Do

Mayor touted a marked decrease in in-school arrests, and announced a December summit and during which the baton will be passed to the Kenney administration.


From left: Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor Christine Piven, Mayor Michael Nutter, assistant to President Obama Broderick Johnson and Superintendent Dr. William Hite. Photo | Fabiola Cineas

Philadelphia is standing up for young men and boys of color.

Statistics have long identified the plight of black men across the country — on average, one in three black men will have some level of contact with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. In Philadelphia, 75 percent of homicide victims and about 80 percent of the known perpetrators arrested for violent crime are young black men.

These figures were at the crux of Mayor Nutter’s announcements yesterday about the city’s ongoing efforts to improve the lives of young men and boys of color. At City Hall he was joined by Broderick Johnson, Assistant to President Obama and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force; Christine Piven, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor and My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia’s Project Director; Superintendent Dr. William Hite; Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; and Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel.

“One shooting, or one homicide is one too many,” said Mayor Nutter, “we have work to do.”

Nutter’s words came on the day after his successor, Jim Kenney, was officially selected. Yet Nutter made it clear that his support for initiatives around helping young men and boys of color wouldn’t dwindle even after his term.

“There is a sense of momentum in Philadelphia in a variety of areas,” he said. “Our profile nationally and internationally continues to rise with a continued focus and emphasis on reducing crime, investing in education, and running the government with integrity,” he added. “We must continue to be a part of the growing movement, a part of the racial equity conversation.”

In many capacities, Philadelphia has been active in the movement to eliminate the disparities that disproportionately hinder black men, from unemployment and incarceration to the lack of educational opportunities and access to healthcare.

In March, Philadelphia became the first city nationwide to release a comprehensive action plan in response to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Challenge.

The city’s action plan seeks to improve outcomes for youth, particularly boys and young men of color through six milestones that identify goals of the initiative and actions steps for stakeholders.

“The President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative is a top priority if we make it that way,” said Johnson.

He added, “Data clearly show us that we must continue to take action not just because of the jaw-dropping statistics […] or because we have a moral obligation as a nation to be more just, but because it is an economic imperative. This country cannot remain a global competitor when young black men are not involved in our society and having productive lives.”

MBK Philadelphia has joined together hundreds of partners across the city under the vision of improving life outcomes for men and boys of color. At MBK’s Securing Our Future: Re-Imagining Philadelphia’s Community-Police Relations Summit in June, over 200 youth in the city came together to rethink Philadelphia’s community-police relations through authentic dialogue with local officers.

“This event gave youth a chance to collaborate with law enforcement and a direct outcome were reports they gave to the officers with recommendations for improving community relations. We are also working with the idea of youth executive councils,” said Piven.

In December, MBK will host the two-day 2015 My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia summit to build more momentum and further the goals of the initiative moving into 2016.

On day one, city government employees and MBK partners from communities across the state — including Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Allentown, Lehigh Valley, Carlisle, and Harrisburg — will engage in a workshop titled Advancing Racial Equity: The Role of Government presented in partnership with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and facilitated by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity in the Center for Social Inclusion.

Day two, open to anyone interested in attending, will debut the MBK Youth Talks that will give four young Philadelphians the opportunity to share their stories and ideas for closing the achievement and opportunity gap for youth, particularly young men and boys of color. MBK will also ceremonially pass on the work to Kenney’s administration.

The Police Department has also played a role in removing barriers for boys and young men of color and seeks to continue this work in the new year. The Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program reduced the number of in-school arrests by 54 percent from 1,582 arrests in the 2013-14 school year to 724 arrests in the following school year.

“We can’t continue to arrest our young people in school. Over half of these kids get arrested for low-hanging offenses like disorderly conduct or fighting,” said Deputy Bethel who spoke on the program’s strategies. Some kids arrested are as young as 10 years old.

The diversion process includes bringing social workers and Department of Human Services (DHS) workers into the child’s home to figure out why they struggle in school, he explained. They work with the kids for months to keep them on track, enrolling them in supportive youth programs across the city. This school year, the number of arrests is already about 60 percent lower than what it was last year, Bethel said.

Superintendent Hite agreed with Commissioner Bethel’s message of positive intervention, citing the School District of Philadelphia’s own behavior support program that continues to identify ways to reduce the racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline. He added, “The District’s focus on early literacy, improved high school graduation rates, and college enrollment are in the right direction for boys, our young men, and our city.”

An underlying theme in each of these initiatives is the fact that young black men and boys can succeed.

“This is not quick or easy work. We’ve started the ball rolling but we have much more to do, and it must continue if we want to see real results,” said Nutter.