Columbia mayor chosen to spotlight ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiatives in South Carolina

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

WASHINGTON — South Carolina’s capital city has been singled out as a success story for how other towns can get inspired by “My Brother’s Keeper,” President Barack Obama’s initiative to empower boys and young men of color through combinations of federal grants, public-private partnerships and ingenuity.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was invited to the White House on Wednesday to share with a small group of reporters what he and local partners were doing to promote MBK.

Benjamin, a Democrat, was part of a panel that included Broderick Johnson, an assistant to Obama and chairman of the MBK task force, and Valerie Jarrett, a highly visible senior advisor to the president.

Benjamin described the programs his city instituted to help boys and young men in low-income minority communities locate resources to grow and thrive, personally and professionally. He listed summer mentorships to after-hours events at public parks. Columbia is also taking part in the MBK Community Challenge, a call to action for communities “to build and execute robust plans to ensure that all young people” achieve their full potential.

In Columbia, one aspect is “Mayor Benjamin’s Barbershop Books,” which, in partnership with CIGNA health insurance, will put 10,000 books in 100 barbershops across the city in the next two years.

Benjamin said there is a need to supply barbershops, which historically are social gathering spaces for black communities, with “culturally relevant, age appropriate reading material for young men of color.”

Though Columbia got chosen this week to represent South Carolina in Washington, other parts of the Palmetto State, including Charleston, are undertaking projects that draw from MBK, which will likely be a legacy project for Obama after he leaves office next year.

Back in March, the Charleston-based Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SPAWAR) hosted a group of students for “a Day at the Lab,” billed as a response to the formal MBK Community Challenge. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg was there to engage with the seventh-and eighth-grade boys who attended the day of hands-on activities. A Tecklenburg spokeswoman said the mayor is actively pursuing more programs in conjunction with MBK, with the next steps including adoption of a local action plan and the creation of an advisory group.

In mid-July, Charleston Southern University will host a MBK Summer Camp for rising seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade boys. Programming will include courses in cyber security and criminal justice, sports activities with professional athletes and tours of college campuses.

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.