February 27th, 2014
03:40 PM ET
7 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. Jake

    If the neighborhood is dangerous, then don't live there. If you can't afford to live anywhere else, you probably should have paid better attention in school, and/or made better life choices.

    February 27, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  2. BarryG

    That's just what we need a privately funded social program, that will utimately be managed by government. Throwing money at the boys in the hood won't stop it....Detroit is a good example. How about all the young black women having multiple babies, with multiple men, or the young black men who see no reason to practice birth control since the ladies gladly give it up. I can only hope that someone with some insight and truth, insures the money is going to those kind of programs and not some hyped up Black History Week, Black Pride, or ACORN. Yes, I know some of the above applies to whites, but apparently they are not in the funding list, so I left them out.

    February 27, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  3. Dave

    Another waste of money. All this will do is line the pockets of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al "Pimp" Sharpton

    February 27, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  4. Barasheit123@gmail.com

    It appears that there a many racist and hating black people in the country. The racist whites of the past are long dead. You racist blacks are just like them and so is this president. What an utter shame you are what you hate.

    February 27, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  5. Not ashamed to be White

    I understand that there are alot of areas in the country where there are poor young black kids who deserve better than what they are given. I understand that most of these kids arent given a fair shot. But what i dont understand is, why is Obama so willing to further segregation? This is almost as bad as his comments on the Zimmerman trial. If this were Bush and he were starting an initiative for young white kids he would be racist. How about we start with the families who are dragging these kids down. How about we start paying teachers who work in the inner city more so that the better teachers will teach there. My wife teaches at an inner city school because she loves to make a difference. I love going in and visiting these students because these kids need a good role model in their lives. Very few of these kids have strong male leaders to keep them on the straight and narrow. we need better FATHERS not initiatives

    February 27, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  6. coderjones

    at least someone is doing something to help
    the current paradigm failed decades ago

    February 27, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  7. smith

    Dominican mama 4 Obama

    This is classic projection. He harbors internal feelings of FEAR that allowing this bill to pass and help veterans would cause veterans to vote Dem, so he PROJECTS some crazy conspiracy theory onto the Dems, claiming it's all some nefarious scheme to get veterans to vote for them.
    -----------------
    And then he ACTs on that fear and votes against it.
    Yes smith.
    That one was for you.

    @DM4O-Your assumption is false. Im an Independent and I thnk the repubs are just as disgracful as your wonderful democrats.

    February 27, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  8. Chris

    I am white and grew up with the exact issues. I needed help and so many do. Help all troubled youth, not just black.

    February 27, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  9. Ant

    200 million to black and brown people. White people go to hell . 8 years of this useless president and Americans no matter what race or religion need to get rid of the bum . He's a disgrace to us all

    February 27, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  10. 自由に登り

    Black supremacist racism. What about Asians who live in ghettos? What about Hispanics who live in ghettos? What about Whites who live in ghettos? There should be no trouble in recognizing that this is a purely racist policy. If you're a child living in a ghetto, you need as much help as you can get, no matter what your skin color. This is not hard.

    February 27, 2014 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  11. Spgfld Tom

    Yea, another Obama program!! Violence in the black community (the balck and the gay communities are the only ones President Zippy is concerned about) will only stop when the members of that community demand the police arrest the gang bangers and drug dealers...demand the prosecutors prosecute (not plea bargain) and that the judges sentence appropriately without "early releases. That should start with no longer voting in Democrats candidates.

    February 27, 2014 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  12. EarthWorm

    Please tell me the day when this President actually does something productive for America.

    February 27, 2014 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    This president is a disgrace

    February 27, 2014 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  14. PCEC78

    It's apparent from the conservative comments here that Obama Derangement Syndrome is alive and well. This is a privately funded program to help marginalized youth. It expands existing programs that have been shown to make a difference to some of our youth. Yes, it could be expanded to include more young people, but good for our President for getting behind it.

    February 27, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  15. Secession Solution

    So poor white people are excluded from this program? Really, why do white people need the Federal government? The tyranny in D.C. needs to meet the dustbin of history.

    February 27, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Confused

    Are you telling me if I, as a white man, tell a black man he must drink from a certain water fountain it is considered racist but if a black man tells a white man he must drink from a certain water fountain because only black men will drink from the other, it is okay? The event is the same regardless of who tells who to do what.

    February 27, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  17. MyBrothersKeeper

    How many programs and subsidies have to be implemented for ONE color alone? Last time I checked, poor is poor and it does not discriminate.

    This president ran on bringing us all together.

    All he does is continue the divide.

    February 27, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  18. Name

    Lol, because throwing even MORE money at these people will stop their problems.... I'm sure the last 40 years should be a good example as to how money helps so much. Too bad money can't buy you common sense.

    February 27, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  19. seang

    How is this even legal? This is a government of the people, not a government for people of color only. You can not single out one minority like that. There are many more in this country who have overcome difficulties and adversity, not just young mem of color. I can just see the coming backlash now.

    February 27, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  20. CL, Nv

    I have to agree with "TooClose2DC". What a racist program. First off, where were ANY of the white reporters covering this issue? Secondly, shame on the reporter who says Obama "has an obligation to black youth because he is a black man". Shame on him. I hear that as "when we have a white president the only people he has an obligation to are white people". As a president he has an obligation to EVERYONE! Could you imagine what if a white president gave 40 million a year to young white men??? Holy cow! How racist would the white community be then? How many black organizations, unions, colleges would be up in arms calling whites "racist" What about the white, and the hispanic community who grew up without a father in their home? They don't get recruited to gangs or turn to drugs or get angry??? I am not a racist however, the blacks segregate the whites just as much. They turn it around on us making it look as though we are the "bad guys". What about the "black only" Universities? Thats not being racist? What if we had a "white only" University? It would be completely recognized as the whites trying to hold the black community from education and keeping them from rising to the top. I will not deny that the black community has probably one of the highest poverty rates and are probably involved in more gangs have a higher rate of drug abuse but what happened to choice. Those were their choices to get involved with those activities. It's called free will. How many success stories are there, Black, White, Hispanic, Indian who have been raised with no father who have made it just fine, because they CHOSE not to be like their dead beat dads???How about highlighting those stats? I am tired of hearing how the american people (white people in particular) are trying to hold the black community down. The race card is used way too much. Slavery was 150 years ago so no one today knows what its like to be a slave. So quit pulling the "poor me, I'm a black man/woman" it's the 21st century and everyone has opportunities. If you choose to get down and out on yourself Black, White, Hispanic, Indian it's your choice.

    February 27, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  21. RS

    So it really is about the color of one's skin.

    February 27, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  22. oharris30

    These kids don't just need mentoring they need the same opportunities as the white kids who also have the same problems. The people in these communities need JOBS!! If they had jobs then the kids would not have to join gangs just to keep food on their family's table. IF companies truly honored their equal opportunity motto then the families would do better. If the law stopped ruining the Black youths resumes arresting them for non violent crimes while letting the white kids go free then maybe they could go to college and be able to get financial aid. THe one sided rules of this country is what brings these kids down. Many people grow up without two parents and do very well. Many grow up with two parents and are a disaster. These kids parents need jobs. They join gangs to help keep food on the table and pay the rent. no excuse but with so many coming into the low income neighborhoods now there are not enough jobs for everybody,.

    February 27, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  23. Amerikano

    Great Speech Mr. President.

    February 27, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  24. janesauric

    Fire the entire Senate. I would be fired if I refused to do my job, so let's get rid of these lazy, self-satisfied idiots. And fire the Congress, too; they never get anything done either.

    February 27, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  25. JennySue

    With democrats trying to manipulate the process and shut out any discussion of the content of bills, it is no wonder nothing is getting done in Washington. Soon enough, the Senate will change hands and this nonsense will stop.

    February 27, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
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