Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama took a detour into his personal history Thursday, saying a new economic initiative could help kids who were "goofing off" like he once did.
"There was a period of time in my life where I was goofing off," Obama told an audience in the White House. "I was raised by a single mom. I didn't know my dad."
The President's remarks came as he designated "Promise Zones" across the country - economically hard-hit areas where the White House will focus efforts on creating manufacturing jobs and improving economic security.
During his speech, Obama singled out a young man standing behind him as an example of someone who could benefit from the program. Roger Brown, now a sophomore in college, attended Harlem Children's Zone, a model for the new White House initiative.
"Now, the way I hear it, Roger, you were still having some problems sometimes," Obama said. "He was the class clown and acting out and almost got himself expelled.
"But the teachers and the staff did not give up on him. They saw something in him. They kept pushing him."
Finally, "something clicked" for Roger, Obama said. The young man now plans to attend medical school and become a neurologist.
"If you want to know why I care about this stuff so much, it's because I'm not that different from Roger," Obama told the audience. "The only difference between me and Roger was my environment was more forgiving than his."
Obama joked he had once shared something else with Roger: the same haircut. The President mused that someday he might again grow out his hair and sport something that resembled the young man's long, natural style.
"Maybe after I'm done with the presidency I can go back to that," Obama said, to laughter.
Addressing the lawmakers in the audience, Obama said he would continue his push to address income inequality "in my State of the Union address - which I want the legislators here to know, I'm going to keep the list shorter than usual."
"They are cheering silently," he joked.
Obama will give his State of the Union address January 28.