02/03/2014 05:36 pm ET Updated Apr 05, 2014

President Obama Embraces Our Sons and Brothers

Elected officials around the country have rightly joined a growing movement for universal early childhood education in America. Learning how to sit still, cooperate and other fundamentals are proven to put children on a path toward success in life.

As noble as this effort is, we run the risk of once again forgetting about the millions of elementary- and high school-level kids -- disproportionately black and brown ones -- who never spent even a day in pre-K. Even worse, their lives are marked by the scarce number of books in their classrooms, the trips they don't take to the doctor and an empty lot next to a liquor store instead of a playground and grocery down the block.

The inequality extends to their day to day lives. A young black kid wearing a hoodie, running down a street or showing up wearing a baseball cap and sweatpants at the mall gets treated very differently than a white kid doing the same things. He draws eyes of suspicion, or even police sirens.

These kids naturally and tragically graduate from broken schools and neighborhoods to a broken prison system that will, at one time or another, house one in three African-American men.

There is a lot of talk today about inequalities in America. It's a long overdue conversation that is, in essence, about where you are born dictating the quality of life you will lead. The experiences of our sons and brothers of color are ground zero and we have to start there.

On Tuesday night, President Obama took a historic first step toward doing just that.

He promised a major new initiative for young men of color, saying:

"...we know our opportunity agenda won't be complete, and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise, unless we also do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American."

One thing that's clear is that we need new ideas and smart thinking to make change. This can't just be about government programs or the shifting winds of philanthropic entities. We need everyone to pitch in.

With people of color as 70 percent of all our state's youth, The California Endowment is making our own contribution. Health Happens Here With All Our Sons & Brothers is a $50 million, seven-year plan to improve school attendance by 30 percent in key school districts, cut suspensions in half, increase training of school police and ensure that all kids are enrolled in health care.

We look forward to working with the president, businesses big and small, educators, philanthropic entities, educators and others to making our effort part of something bigger -- something that can end a vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration and, frankly, a betrayal of America's most cherished values.

More than anything, it will take more than institutions in far away places -- it will take teachers, mentors, coaches, parents and community leaders who are on the ground working next to these kids to come together.

Our eyes are finally opening to the "cradle to prison pipeline." Now we need the vision for dismantling it and replacing it with a meaningful pathway of opportunity and promise for all our sons and brothers.