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. Steve

    Strong families, safe neighborhoods, role models and mentors... all good things that can change lives. It's an intervention and it's long overdue. I'm happy to see the President take the initiative. And it's not using tax dollars; it's foundations and private business who also believe in this effort and are supporting him with their dollars.

    February 27, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  2. ioutbidu

    My Brothers Keeper / Where's Your Father, The Government cannot raise YOUR children well

    February 27, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  3. SCDad

    So KILL the gang bangers. Stop arresting them and just shoot them. "Oh no! He's got a gun. BLAM!"

    February 27, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  4. chuckt

    another idiot move by Mr Reid. Where is Obama and his leadership, you would think he would go and suggest both sides remove the requirements they are looking for and help the veterans. This is what's broke and needs to get fixed. Bills should be passed on one subject and not loaded down with other things that only buys the up vote. If the main part of any bill is crap, then it should be turned down. This is the Senate which has the majority of the Democratic party. Wow....

    February 27, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  5. chuckt

    nother idiot move by Mr Reid. Where is Obama and his leadership, you would think he would go and suggest both sides remove the requirements they are looking for and help the veterans. This is what's broke and needs to get fixed. Bills should be passed on one subject and not loaded down with other things that only buys the up vote. If the main part of any bill is crap, then it should be turned down. This is the Senate which has the majority of the Democratic party. Wow....

    February 27, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  6. Jason Young Guy

    I don't understand why the President of the United States needs to be doing this or the Government really, when it should be done by parents, teachers, local leaders and mentors in every community across the Country on a daily basis. Nonetheless, it's a good thing for those truly needing it, and don't get what their communities should be doing for all youths of all races. In my opinion.

    February 27, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  7. oharris30

    This country is a disgrace. Just look at how many minorities were not given any recommendations for their heroics in the military. That's a disgrace! Whites need to open their eyes. Whites have been doing for each other for years. hiring whites first and closing the door in the faces of minorities. happened to many I knew who finished colleges and universities with high hopes including myself. THis country is full of inequalities for minorities and this is a president who will do something for his people just like every white president has for their people. Just on the down low. The fact that he has to do this just shows how much wrong has been done to minorities in this country all these years. Just look at all the white racist comments from those who still today try to hold minorities down. ted nugent and a whole bunch more

    February 27, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  8. Saskatchewan

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

    That day will be the date he leaves office.

    February 27, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  9. Name

    You start by teaching kids good values kids today have no direction bad tv and crappy music. By the way Mr president its 2014 why start another program
    that divides people

    February 27, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  10. deee510

    you idiots comment Every time there's a story about black crime that blacks don't take responsibility for our youth.soon As the president makes effort to do that he's racist.idiots will criticize him for breathing.you hate him no matter what he does admit it

    February 27, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  11. Kenman

    Ah, another feel good piece of generosity of OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, from this narcissist in the White House that doesn't give his own brother living in poverty the time of day!

    Liberals are such hypocrites! This character just keeps putting out little feel good bandaids to critical problems for which he has no GOOD answer!

    Once again, not really even giving LIP SERVICE to jobs and the economy, other than to keep forcing us to pay for the ballooning number of Democrat dependents!

    Good grief, that Don Lemon character just made the "black man" description of the President's role in this photo-op and the "people of color" that are to be impressed with this!

    February 27, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  12. Sniffit

    "Anyone notice that obama has never once mentioned GANG VIOLENCE?"

    No. And you know why? He's talked about it a lot. He did so at a fair distance from the inside of the bubble you're in, however, so it's quite understandable you missed it.

    February 27, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  13. CJ

    If you aren't black or gay, this president doesn't care about you. He has made this plainly obvious through his actions. He is the most divisive president since Nixon.

    February 27, 2014 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  14. Bob

    Black unemployment is up since Obama was elected. So is black poverty, and the number of black victims of violent crimes. Only about half of black males will get a high school diploma. I appreciate the kind words Mr. Obama but you have not done anything to help the situation so this sounds like another empty promise..

    February 27, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  15. zack

    how about we focus on job creation to give people a better life vs. allowing companies to outsource every job overseas and also how about we clear all student loan on americans so that my paycheck doesnt go to 85%

    February 27, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  16. DRJJJ

    Young black gang members are doing most of the gun violence in this country. Ban gangs.

    February 27, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    "What about Asians who live in ghettos? What about Hispanics who live in ghettos? What about Whites who live in ghettos?"

    They'd all be helped by this as well. CNN's sloppy reporting is what has you upset. Well, it's more like CNN is deliberately upsetting you in order to generate nontroversy, but whatever.

    February 27, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  18. jerome

    They should take the $200 million and arm those kids. Thin the herd a little.

    February 27, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  19. Smitty

    Its about time. However I don't Obammy following thru. Probably, sadly just more lip service.

    February 27, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  20. VJ

    Good bill... Leave the disgraceful GOP.....

    February 27, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  21. 2_indy1600

    This is a long-awaited move of support to a group he is uniquely qualified to lead. I hope he makes it his life's work after his term, but it should've begun long ago.

    February 27, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  22. Ayannali

    I am curious why so many are so mad because the President got private funding over a 5 year period to held young men?

    Isn't this taking care of the community, helping someone up instead of handouts? Isn't this exactly what people have been asking for?

    Why is it wrong?

    February 27, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  23. Sapper

    If this is a presidential program it should not be based upon "color". This should not just be for "youth of color".

    February 27, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  24. Creaso

    This helps all youths of color not just blacks. The funny part is he leaves out the race with the most people in poverty. The white race; over two to three times as many whites live in poverty as blacks but lets just forget 18 million impoverished souls because their skin isn't colored.

    February 27, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  25. Themoderatethinker

    This is racist, how about white kids?

    February 27, 2014 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
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