February 27th, 2014
03:40 PM ET
5 months ago

Obama unveils 'My Brother's Keeper,' opens up about his dad, drugs and race

(CNN) – The President has a message for young minority men who grew up like he did.

"No excuses. Government, and private sector, and philanthropy, and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We've got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience," he said.

"But you've got responsibilities too. And I know you can meet the challenge, many of you already are, if you make the effort."

President Barack Obama spoke Thursday at the White House, where he announced "My Brother's Keeper" - a new initiative to help young men and boys of color succeed.

He described the program as one that "goes to the very heart of why I ran for President" and dove into his own life to explain why such an initiative is needed, speaking candidly about his father, drugs and race.

A White House official said Obama improvised a good portion of his remarks and was more emotional than many planners of the event had anticipated.

Read the initiative

"I didn't have a dad in the house, and I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short," the President said.

He compared himself to young men now who are growing up like he did.

"The only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving. So when I made a mistake, the consequences were not as severe," the President said.

"I had people who encouraged me, not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders. And they pushed me to work hard, and study hard, and make the most of myself. And if I didn't listen, they said it again. And if I didn't listen, they said it a third time - and they would give me second chances and third chances.

"They never gave up on me, and so I didn't give up on myself."

'Moral issue'

The new initiative will look at what's already being done to assist young men of color across the country and build on best practices.

It's brought together foundations and businesses to pledge at least $200 million over the next five years, on top of the $150 million they have already invested.

Every child deserves the same chances he had, Obama said.

"This is an issue of national importance. It's as important as any issue that I work on. It's an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President, because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody.

"The notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country," the President said.

Helping young minority men have the opportunity to get ahead, he said, is an economic as well as a "moral issue."

"It doesn't take that much, but it takes more than we're doing now," Obama said.

'Numb to statistics'

The President cited alarming statistics to drive home his point.

"By almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country, are boys and young men of color," he said.

Obama noted that if you're African-American, there's about a one in two chance you grew up without a father in the house. If you're Latino, you have about a one in four chance.

As a black student, you're less likely that a white student to read proficiently by the fourth grade and far more likely to be suspended or expelled by the time you reach high school, he said.

You're also more likely to wind up in the criminal justice system and as a victim as a violent crime.

"The worst part is we've become numb to these statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is," the President said.

"But these statistics should break our hearts, and they should compel us to act."


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (173 Responses)
  1. Bill

    So, if you have a white kid who has all of the same issues to overcome, he is out of luck because of the color of his skin???

    That sends the perfect message to today's youth....if you want a president who cares about your needs, make sure you vote for a president who is the same color as you.

    February 27, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  2. deee510

    More proof some will bash our president no matter what he does.same ones who say blacks need to do something about black youth will bash Obama for trying to help and intervene troubled black youth

    February 27, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  3. WhiteISaColor

    Last time I checked, white was a color. It's not like a white person is "transparent" like a window and you can see through their skin, right?

    February 27, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  4. tiz

    well played, Bill O'Reilly...... well played.....

    February 27, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  5. collhi

    The money should be directed to the mothers as a bribe to not have so many babies out of wedlock.

    February 27, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  6. Darlene Davis Rahaman

    YESSSSSSSSSS! GO OBAMA ! Black children are at RISK than other children on Earth. If a white president did it for white children, yes it will be racist because the world has been jacked up with white supremacy. Obama, you did the right thing.

    February 27, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  7. Special K

    This is discrimination, this program should be set up for all, should not matter if you are black or white, gay or straight, if you believe in god, if you have tattoos or not. No one came and helped me, I had to work from the bottom and work my way up on my own. Next thing he will push out is free health care for the young black people.

    February 27, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  8. Karen

    Great program! Thank you Pres. Obama.
    Shame on you ignorant commentators. Don't you listen? This is not the tax. And did you listen to the statistics? There is a reason that this is for youths of color.

    Karen, a 60+ year old white woman who hopes that better education will lead to a world that is more compassionate and less violent.

    February 27, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  9. Jeff S

    Nice that he stole the name of a charity that has been around for 25 years... http://www.mybrotherskeeper.org/

    February 27, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. Tiffany Phillips

    I am so hurt, as a mother of a biracial child, to hear our president called black. Not because there's anything wrong with being black, but because Barrack Obama is biracial. If his mother were living I'm sure, as I am, that she would ask what about me? Why is he anymore black than white? Seriously, are these "educated" people still going by the 1/8 rule....Unbelievable and disappointing

    February 27, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  11. Darlene Davis Rahaman

    Racism been here before Obama,GO GO OBAMA GO!

    February 27, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  12. Tony

    So Obama wasn't even decent enough to invite a single poor white male ? what a disgrace to him and all those other people .. I cant believe they don't seem to think their are poor white males who also need help...

    I guess to them all white are rich just like all Jews must be rich..

    February 27, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  13. Adrian

    I cannot believe that people have the nerve to call this program racist. Have you no concept of history and the context of the American system? If you think this program is racist, you are an idiot, plain and simple.

    February 27, 2014 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  14. bob

    Yes because nice middle class white neighborhoods are full of dangers while walking home. Everyone is quick to claim race, well then how about YOU try escorting some of these kids home in THEIR neighborhoods instead of sitting in your cubicle claiming racism.

    February 27, 2014 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. LOL

    200 million won't even put a dent in the that problem AND I don't believe for a minute the money will get used for its intended purpose with the amount of corruption we have in the government these days.

    February 27, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  16. Nikki6

    Why is that everyone has something to complain about? One person yells cause we have soldiers over seas...Obama brings them home....then someone scolds him for putting soldiers out of work. Which is it people?! People yell cause they want Obama to "do something." He creates a program for youth that need help when no other white leader would. Then people cry, what about the whites?! Obama could throw millions of dollars out of planes over the entire country and people would still complain.

    February 27, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  17. the Mayor of Medinah

    Poor white boys, American Indian boys, Indian boys, Chinese boys, Samoan boys .... need not apply. You get the picture, the half white president is turning his check and embracing his fathers half of him.

    February 27, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  18. Silence DoGood

    So if Obama is not helping the black community he is criticized but if he does help he is criticized.
    Well at least GOP plan to criticize Obama regardless of facts or actual actions is being carried out by the zombie faithful.

    February 27, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  19. ug

    Of course it is for the bIacks only...sounds racist to me...

    February 27, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    "So, if you have a white kid who has all of the same issues to overcome, he is out of luck because of the color of his skin??? "

    Nope. CNN said "minority youth of color" just to give you that incorrect impression and screw up the entire discussion.

    February 27, 2014 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  21. wallamazoo

    Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars already go to helping the needy without racial discrimination in the form of Department of Social and Health Services, many of which already support things like Affirmative Action to provide people of color MORE cash incentives for their hardships than say, a caucasian single mom. I don't think topping off the cash-dollar cake will lead to less impoverished children, since it doesn't mean that illegal activity, trafficking and forced addiction of youth will end as a result. That money should be put towards creating public work that hires folk to rebuild the infrastructure of their current living spaces and go towards the prosecution of degenerate criminals who operate under lewd pretenses. Only by improving the social status of human beings will we see an end to poverty, not by handing out cash allowances.

    February 27, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  22. Evan

    Hope it works!

    February 27, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  23. Gary

    I wish america was a good place for all if us

    February 27, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  24. MICK

    Anyone notice that obama has never once mentioned GANG VIOLENCE? He is so quick to talk trash about legal gun owners, yet refuses to even mention the epidemic of street gangs actually doing all the killing.

    February 27, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  25. James

    Although I applaud the president for taking initiative on something like this, I believe this is a bigger issue than just young black men. Let's not forget about poor white and Hispanic neighborhoods that have similar stories. I think the president is in a position to paint with a bigger brush instead of his own race. And before anyone says anything, Bush initiated No Child Left Behind for ALL children. God forbid he would have been called a racist for only helping uneducated white kids.

    February 27, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
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