My Brother's Keeper takes next steps with MENTOR-NBA partnership

President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative, aimed at providing opportunities for growth and success for men of color, has launched its newest partnership with MENTOR and the National Basketball Association. 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
President Barack Obama speaks about the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, Monday, July 21.

“If you need to get everyone’s attention, then partner with someone who has a big bullhorn,” says David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, after President Barack Obama announced the partnership between MENTOR and the NBA to help inspire more men of color to become mentors.

I’d would say that every organization that relies on mentors to help children of any race just benefitted from the call to volunteer that was relayed via the biggest “bullhorn” on the planet, the US presidential podium.

On Monday, the White House announced a partnership between MENTOR and another big voice in the crowd, the National Basketball Association in support of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to connect boys and young men of color to resources to achieve success.

For many media outlets, the announcement took a back seat to President Obama awarding the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts, and signing executive orders protecting LGBT employees from federal workplace discrimination. 

However, to many volunteer organizations that need more mentors it was a very big deal.

According to Shapiro, MENTOR’s mission is to help young people “get the support they need through quality mentoring relationships to succeed at home, school, and ultimately, work.”

In a phone interview after the announcement, Shapiro said he believes that unlike many other public-private sector service initiatives that have come and gone over the years, the NBA’s five-year partnership commitment gives the program many points in its favor.

“It’s very unusual to see an organization sign-up for a five-year commitment to this type of outreach,” says Shapiro. “That’s not an empty effort.”

Over the next five years, the NBA has pledged to use the NBA Cares global responsibility arm of its operations to promote mentoring via its media outreach, programming, players, and television assets.

“I know it will all translate into more messages and messengers reaching people and helping motivate them to volunteer to mentor,” Shapiro adds. “Like I said, it’s a really big bullhorn with a good message and programs to direct people to follow through with the effort.”

According to Shapiro, one out of every three kids in our country will grow up without a mentor.

Over the past six years as a community organizer and mentor, I’ve seen too many good kids in bad situations who either pulled through thanks to quality mentoring, or fell off the grid and into bad situations in the absence of guidance and support.

Therefore, I have been watching the My Brother’s Keeper initiative since the White House’s initial announcement, 100 days ago, from a community organizer, mentor, and mom’s point of view.

The community chess program that I organize in Norfolk, Va. relies entirely on word of mouth to get people to come and help us to teach a the game of chess and use that game as part of a greater one-on-one mentoring experience that mainly serves urban children of color.

Now, smaller community organizations that work with kids can register their project via the MENTOR web site and volunteers can sign up for projects in their area through the MENTOR or NBA Cares web site

MENTOR and the NBA hope to recruit 25,000 new mentors over five years, with a specific emphasis on recruiting men of color.

When asked about how it felt to meet the President for the announcement, Shapiro fell into an awkward silence. Unfortunately, among the photo opportunities with major sponsors, those representing the actual activity being promoted, including Shapiro, were left out.

Thankfully, he knows the biggest work goes on behind the scenes. “I don’t need to shake someone’s hand or have my photo taken. All I need is to get things done,” says Shapiro.

I’m glad to see that Shapiro and MENTOR are there in the background, organizing, orchestrating, and advocating for kids who really do need all the spotlights, bullhorns, and emotional support that mentors can give them.

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