Michael D. Smith is rallying the faithful and following in the footsteps of his mentor: President Barack Obama.
As Executive Director of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Smith moves from meeting to meeting with an easy smile, a tight handshake and a purpose. He is the engine that drives MBK.
Today, Smith is building on momentum from last week’s MBK Rising! conference to uplift black boys and young men of color.
“This is our first national summit, and the first time the Obama Foundation has ever attempted a gathering of this scope,” Smith, 39, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “Love was shown to our kids and communities. So often our kids are overlooked; many of these kids have never been on an airplane, or stayed in a hotel, or told that they matter.”
Like Obama, Smith decided to pursue a career in social activism and public service and, today, Obama entrusts Smith to carry out his mission. In 2014, Obama created My Brother’s Keeper and issued a powerful call to action to close opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color. Since MBK’s inception, nearly 250 cities, counties, and Tribal Nations have accepted the MBK Community Challenge.
And with callous cuts to federal social programs and a government that dismisses the needs of young black men, MBK is critical.
“Every single day there were young men of color who were being shot and killed … Every single day there were young men who were dropping out of school. Every single day there were men who were more likely to go to prison than college,” Obama said during last week’s conference that featured NBA star Stephen Curry, singer and songwriter John Legend and actor Michael B. Jordan.
The gathering in Oakland, California brought together hundreds of young men of color and mentors who discussed ways to reduce youth violence, expand mentorship programs, improve the quality of life for boys and young men of color and revitalizing urban neighborhoods, block by block.
For an MBK Day of Service in Oakland, boys and young men visited the MLK Elementary School and helped in the community garden, they organized small libraries, painted murals at the school, and cleaned school buildings and classrooms. In San Francisco, activities at Phillip and Sala Burton High School included resume reviews and hosting mock interviews.
Many of these young men have been immeasurably changed by the MBK experience and are now helping to enrich the lives of other boys, many of whom desperately need to see positive role models.
Young leaders like Noah McQueen, a senior at Morehouse College where he is studying sociology and working in real estate. In 2015, Noah became a mentee through My Brother’s Keeper at the White House. And Malachi Hernandez, a student and Torch Scholar recipient at Northeastern University majoring in political science and communication studies.
“Our young men walked away inspired, encouraged and with the full assurance that they mattered to President Obama, to the extraordinary leaders gathered in the audience and on stage, and to their communities who were represented by more than 1200 strong,” Smith told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Smith not only manages MBK, he relates directly to the struggles of many in the MBK program. Smith was raised by a single mom in a low-income, Black and sometimes violent neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts. Both of Smith’s parents were 16 years old when he was born. Despite many obstacles, Smith graduated college and became a Senior Advisor to President Obama in the White House.
Smith’s mission with MBK is also deeply personal: He understands the challenges, and even the violence, facing young Black men in America: Smith’s half-brother, Tory, was murdered in 2009. Tory was only 27 years old.
Today, Smith is back at work corresponding with community partners, reflecting on last week’s summit, and planning for the future.
“This wasn’t just an event,” he said. “It was an unprecedented revival for the missionaries who will go back home and continue to do this work.”
PHOTOS: The Obama Foundation