(Updated 7/18/2014) Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity (PBS) opened its highly anticipated centennial week, themed “The Best is Yet to Come,” July 16 at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest D.C. by unveiling an ambitious initiative to aid the nation’s young men of color.
The fraternity’s 34th International President Jonathan A. Mason voiced excitement as he spelled out the details of “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” a 2014 -2015 initiative that will address issues impacting men of color, inspired by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a $200 million public private partnership for jobs and training.
“I Am My Brother’s Keeper” will adopt 100 schools and provide mentors for 10,000 African American male students. The initiative will also increase the membership of its youth organization, Sigma Beta, by 20 percent; work with Congress to pass legislation that will reduce gun violence; train and educate 5,000 men through the March of Dimes’ “Building Strong Fathers” program; and provide $1 million in college scholarships to men of color.
Speakers at the opening press conference included Broderick Johnson, chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force; Rev. Al Sharpton, a fraternity member who is also founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN); George Selvie, professional football player for the Dallas Cowboys, Jeff Obafemi Carr, Ph.D., producer of the anti-hazing film “He Ain’t Heavy;” and representatives from the organization’s longtime partner, the March of Dimes, a non-profit organization founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to combat the spread of polio.
Shortly after the Sigma’s news conference, Sharpton spoke with the AFRO about the goals of the fraternity’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, focusing on its link with the March of Dimes, whose mission has evolved into promoting general health for pregnant women and babies. “I think the partnerships are to make sure we can reach the young men and boys that need the service, need the mentoring, need the help, and have the resources,” he said.
Noting that the $200 million philanthropic groups and corporations have pledged to the Obama administration to invest in jobs and training over the next five years to help men of color navigate the obstacles to growth and progress, he said, “Now, we have got to make sure that those dollars are maximized for the effect.”
Reducing gun violence is a major start, Sharpton told the AFRO.
“I think there are two different parts of the same program. One, you must have a commitment from the private sector and the public sector on jobs, which is what he [Johnson] addressed this morning in saying they’re getting commitments on jobs.
“But a sister to that is bringing down gun violence,” Sharpton continued. “Part of what we’ve got to tell young men when you talk about ‘You don’t need a gun,’ is that we can give them a job. A lot of young men are choosing street life because there are no other options for them. You must give people a better way, and not tell them ‘Do the right thing’ and not help them do the right thing.”
Sharpton said the fraternity will reach out to other fraternities and sororities to partner with them in the “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
In a news conference earlier, Mason introduced Sigma member George Selvie, Dallas Cowboys defensive end, as the brand ambassador of the “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
Selvie said he is eager to participate in the fraternity’s drive to give back to the community.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to partner with this initiative,” he said. “As a football player, children look to us for role models, it’s a great privilege to give back to my community and PBS.”
Selvie said he will also recruit other National Football League (NFL) players to mentor young African American males.
Mason also trumpeted the production of a film by Carr, whose film on hazing will be shown this fall in Atlanta, New York, Washington, D.C. and Nashville, Tenn., noting that the fraternity launched an anti-hazing campaign in 2012.