The Root: How the Kapor Center Serves as Our Brothers’ and Sisters’ Keeper

Kapor Center

Written by Benjamin Todd Jealous on

Cedric Brown sat three chairs down from President Barack Obama as he announced his My Brother’s Keeper initiative last week. But more importantly, moving forward, is that Brown has a seat at the table as the White House tackles the persistent crisis of young men of color in America.

Cedric and his colleague Nicole Sanchez are managing partners at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, based in Oakland, Calif. He and his colleagues have a clear grasp of what it will take to level the playing field for young men of color, and it is encouraging that President Obama believes in them, too.

For two decades, Cedric has embodied the ethos of My Brother’s Keeper. A former school counselor, he co-founded the College Bound Brotherhood, a network of organizations that seeks to widen the pathway for African-American young men entering college. At the Kapor Center, he invests in programs that close gaps in opportunity and success.

A foundational principle of his work is that any plan to help young men of color has to involve a dual strategy. Personal responsibility is important, but there must be mechanisms in place to make sure that personal responsibility is enough.

“Personal responsibility is key,” he told me. “But every young man who works hard should have the opportunity to succeed. It can’t all be on their backs. It is up to us to change public policy and perceptions that end up cramping these young men’s ability. The answer has to involve both individuals and institutions.”

The Kapor Center is one of those institutions. The team that Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein have assembled is focused on advancing social justice by any means that work. The Center has injected millions of dollars into programs like the College Bound Brotherhood and the Level Playing Field Institute, which works to eliminate the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in the crucial “STEM” fields: science, technology, engineering and math.

On the business side, Kapor Capital makes seed-stage investments in gap-closing startups, like Pigeonly, which helps inmates communicate with family outside, or UniversityNow, which seeks to make college accessible and ultimately debt-free.

The idea of serving as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers is central to the Kapor Center culture. Our Oakland headquarters is filled with people who believe that race should not be a barrier to success, and who want to create circumstances that allow people to take control of their own destiny.

As Cedric told me, “We have to be responsible for other people even if they don’t look like us, or act like us. We are all in this together. All people need to be valued.”

It is that spirit that Cedric brought with him to the White House last week, and it is that spirit that has attracted me to join the Kapor Center and Kapor Capital teams.