National attention, local efforts strengthen hope for boys of color


Last Thursday, I experienced an unforgettable moment, one that brought my tenure at the Skillman Foundation full circle.

When I joined the Foundation nearly a decade ago, one of the first things I did was to conduct listening tours with neighborhood residents. I wanted to hear from people directly about their concerns for their kids.

One of the most compelling and poignant things I heard was from mothers who said, “Help us save our boys.” That plea stayed with me, and it has become a part of the Foundation’s mandate to improve the lives of children. It has and continues to be core to the Foundation’s investment in six Detroit neighborhoods where 30 percent of the city’s kids live.

Fast forward to last week. I stood in the East Room of the White House alongside my colleague, senior program officer Robert Thornton, as President Barack Obama’s made a historic announcement, introducing the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. This initiative will devote an addition $200 million to efforts to improve outcomes for boys of color.

To hear our nation’s president commit to removing barriers that systematically waste the potential of these young boys and men was overwhelming inspiring, emotional and satisfying. In a word, it was exhilarating.

Surrounding me were colleagues from across the nation that the Skillman Foundation has worked with for years to get to this historic moment. Our Foundation is a founding member and serves on the leadership team for the Executive Alliance for Boys and Young Men of Color, a coalition of 30 foundations across the country. We might be a Detroit-based funder, but we have been on the national forefront on this issue, providing leadership to keep it top of mind among the nation’s top philanthropies.

I also was pleased that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was present and supportive of this effort. His attendance and his remarks during his state of the city address reveal that our city’s leadership cares about children.

The possibilities of what can be done in Detroit for “our boys” are enormous, now that we have both local and national leadership committed to supporting our efforts.

But most important of all, credit for last week’s announcement must be shared with the hundreds of people whose work too often goes unheralded. These are the people who do the heavy lifting at the neighborhood level. These are the everyday heroes who work directly with these vulnerable boys. Folks like Neighborhood Service Organization’s Frank McGhee, Black Family Development’s Alice Thompson, Minority Males for Higher Education’s Edmund Lewis, Goodwill Industries’ Keith Bennett, DAPCEP’s Jason Lee, Brightmoor Community Center’s Dennis Talbert, Cody High School’s Jonathon Matthews, Don Bosco Hall’s Charles Small and Osborn High School’s Tanya Bowman.

Since I made those initial visits to listen to residents, things have improved in Detroit. More boys are graduating from high school, going to college, leading and serving our community. Despite there being so much more to do, we as a community should take pride in that that has been accomplished thus far.

This occasion stirs great hope for me—not because of what we have accomplished so far, but because of the immense possibilities at hand to build on those accomplishments with this new, unprecedented commitment.

I don’t know where those mothers are now, whom told me how they so dearly loved and wanted to protect their sons. But I hope the mothers of boys in Detroit today feel more hopeful.

Tonya Allen is president & CEO of the Skillman Foundation. Follow her on Twitter: @allen_tonya.


Passion is Everything...
Please continue to advocate for our youth.
3/07/2014 at 11:20 pm

My Brothers Keeper
Thank you! We can change the trajectory of boys and men of color. Thank you Tonya Allen for understanding not only the value of this work but it's significance to our cities and world.

Dennis Talbert
3/07/2014 at 11:14 pm