Maya Rockeymoore and john a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley, recently co-wrote an op-ed published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the broader impact of a new White House Initiative “My Brother’s Keeper” designed to improve educational opportunities for Black youths.

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new initiative focused on the needs of boys and men of color. While the overall address received much applause, this new effort was met with a conspicuous silence.

The president may have anticipated this less than generous response. As if to preemptively address his critics, he assured the nation that this initiative would not require any money from the government and instead would be funded through private donations from foundations and other nongovernment entities.

In naming this initiative “My Brother’s Keeper,” perhaps the White House is not just asking whether we can help boys and men of color but asking: Can we really care to help them? Can we come to see them as family, worthy of nurturing, respect, and regard?

While some may find this question provocative, others may find it obvious.

If these broken structures are properly repaired for men and boys of color, benefits would extend to many groups. Not all groups have the same relationship to schools, housing, the criminal-justice system, and other structures, but boys and men of color may be like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The canary exposes toxic air earlier than humans. In fixing the air for the canary, the benefit is extended to all who breathe.

Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable serves everyone. Concern that nontargeted groups will receive inadequate support is not an argument against properly targeted programs.

Because none of us lies outside the circle of human concern, we must prevent anyone from languishing there. An approach to effective policy should be based not only on our unique positions in society but also on our shared humanity. We are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Read the full op-ed at the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the extended letter at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley.