As deputy director of the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Jaime Guzman (New Jersey, ’97) is working to create opportunities for boys and men of color. Learn how his experiences made him into the leader he is today.
December 4, 2019
In June of 2016, Jaime Guzman (New Jersey, ’97) had just become a father. He'd devoted the past 19 years of his life to educational equity, as a teacher, nonprofit leader, and member of the Chicago Board of Education. But his son made him start to think differently about the challenges he was working to overcome.
“On paternity leave, I was thinking a lot about the world I wanted him to grow up in,” Jaime says. “And that’s when I got a call from a former colleague about an open position at My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.”
My Brother’s Keeper was founded in 2014 by President Obama, and is focused on building community and creating pathways of opportunity for boys and young men of color. Since its launch, nearly 250 cities, counties, and Tribal Nations have joined the initiative. In 2017, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance became an initiative of the Obama Foundation. As the deputy director, Jaime builds partnerships across sectors, working to accelerate the impact of existing initiatives and launch new ones.
After graduating from Dartmouth, Jaime began his work in education as a New Jersey corps member. “I always said I was going to be a lawyer,” Jaime says. “But after seeing the connection I made with my students and the community, I wanted to come back to Chicago and teach in my neighborhood, Little Village.”
After several years teaching at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Jaime started to think about making an impact outside of his school. “I realized that once my students left my classroom, I couldn’t account for their experiences in the education system writ large, nor the socio-economic realities they were facing. So I started to think about broader systems change.”
In the following years, Jaime held several positions working with local and national nonprofits and school districts. His wealth of experience led then-Mayor Emanuel to appoint him to the Chicago Board of Education. During his tenure, Jaime focused on building trust with community members. “I tried to find every opportunity to be visible in the community, especially in parts of the city that didn’t usually have board members visiting,” he says. He filled his days with school visits and community events, making specific efforts to reach out to the Latinx community.
“For too long we’ve become satisfied with incremental change.”
Jaime is proud of the work the board accomplished in partnership with the district—during his tenure they revolutionized the state funding formula, and saw real growth in high school graduation and college enrollment rates. However, attainment gaps for boys of color persisted.
“For too long we’ve become satisfied with incremental change,” Jaime says. “The vast majority of opportunity youth—people who are out of school and out of work—are boys and young men of color. I want to see systems working together to prevent those things from happening, and when they do, I want clear pathways to help people get back on track. It’s not just one mentor or one teacher that will make systemic change—it’s a network.”
Jaime believes Chicago is uniquely positioned to be a proof point for the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Not only is the Obama Foundation located in the city, but Chicago has an incredibly engaged civic community, with many individuals and nonprofits working to provide opportunity. Still, there is a lot of work to be done. “Right now we have pockets of success for boys and young men of color across the city,” Jaime says. “But there isn’t a center of gravity pulling those folks together to make them feel like they’re part of a movement, to encourage them to share ideas, to collaborate, to help them connect and stay charged in this work that is so challenging.”
To move the work forward, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance surveyed hundreds of boys and men of color across the city, asking them what they needed. These insights were the foundation of Chicago’s My Brother’s Keeper Action Plan, which officially launched this past May. Jaime is hopeful about what comes next. “Two years ago, we had four, five people at the table,” he says. “Last week, we had more than 60 people at a My Brother’s Keeper meeting, and 40 organizations represented.”
When reflecting on how his journey began, he credits Teach For America for launching his career in education. “I would not be where I am today without TFA,” Jaime says. “I’d probably be that lawyer my parents wanted me to be! But probably less fulfilled.”