03/13/2014 02:09 pm ET Updated May 13, 2014

The Mentoring Effect: How the President's Brother's Keeper Initiative Taps This Critical Asset

Nearly every major indicator of economic, social and physical well-being reveals that our country's African-American men do not have access to the structural supports and resources that drive social and economic mobility. Our nation cannot thrive when a significant portion of our population faces a disproportionate number of obstacles to achieving success. President Obama's new "My Brother's Keeper" initiative aims to change this dynamic by leveraging the work of government, nonprofits, foundations and the private sector to elevate and expand solutions to the barriers that prevent our nation's African-American young men from realizing their full potential.

This fissure in the promise of opportunity begins early and widens with mounting obstacles. While education is one of our greatest assets in reversing this course, nearly 60 years since the Brown v Board of Education decision, African-American students still lack equal access to high quality education and the supports that augment classroom learning. The tendency to search for a silver bullet solution overshadows the need for the holistic supports required for a young person to develop successfully. Mentoring is one of those critical supports.

Youth with mentors who are at risk for falling off track are 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college or other post-secondary education than those who did not have a mentor. This is just one of the findings from a first-of-its-kind nationally representative survey of young people on the topic of mentoring. The report, The Mentoring Effect, commissioned by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and written by Civic Enterprises with Hart Research, also found that one in three youth will reach adulthood without this powerful asset in their lives.

The bright spot is in the African-American community where young people are more likely to have a mentor through a formal mentoring program -- 24 percent of African-American young adults say they had a structured mentoring relationship while growing up compared to 15 percent of young adults overall. These relationships have the potential to significantly shift the course of a young person's life.

Take the relationship between Howard White, the vice president of a Fortune 100 company, and 17 year-old Malik. They were matched through Urban Youth's "What it Takes" mentoring program in Philadelphia. At that time, Malik was in middle school but reading at a third grade level and struggling with negative influences in his neighborhood. Howard and Malik share an interest in sports and business, they spend time reading together and Howard is always there to offer guidance and support. These little things have added up for both men. Malik just completed three college and scholarship applications. Howard, in turn, has gained a new appreciation for the impact his time can have in a young person's life.

The impact is not only on those connected in relationships. In The Mentoring Effect, at-risk young adults who had a mentor were 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly, and nine out of 10 of them want to give back by becoming a mentor. When young people are connected they develop into actively engaged citizens.

At the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans (Initiative), we recognize the importance of this connection -- the critical role that caring and committed adults can play in supporting the academic success as well as social and emotional development of our youth. This is why we launched our public-private partnership with MENTOR. The Initiative serves as a mentor mobilizer by using our platform to encourage and support adults in becoming mentors.

And through this partnership we're working to re-establish the Federal Mentoring Council to ensure that federal agencies and leading non-profits work together to leverage quality mentoring as a key systemic response to strengthen support and opportunity for those youth who need it most. This partnership is directly in line with the President's commitment to ensure that we all accept the shared responsibility to serve as our brothers' and our sisters' keepers.

At the recent National Mentoring Summit, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the Initiative's Chair and the President of University of Maryland-Baltimore County eloquently expressed our determination to rewrite the current narrative saying, "The world of tomorrow does not have to be the same as the world of today." My Brother's Keeper will be a catalyst to spur deeper collective action and to recognize that our prosperity as a nation is dependent upon the prosperity of all. It calls us to take responsibility for all our young people and especially those facing the steepest odds. It calls us to mentor.

David Johns is the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Initiative works across federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce a more effective continuum of education programs for African American students.

David Shapiro is CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, the unifying champion for quality youth mentoring in the United States. MENTOR's mission is to close the "mentoring gap" and ensure our nation's young people have the support they need through quality mentoring relationships to succeed at home, school and ultimately, work.