February 27th, 2014
03:40 PM ET
9 years 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.

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"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. LTC

    Find the moron's that voted for these idiot racist's and pull
    Their heads out of their assessment. Show them what has become
    Of the US. Don't do this again.

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

    what about hispanics, asian, white childen? this community organizer seems to be picking race.......just being observant

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

    How about set up an enviroment where work is available. How about letting some of the thousands in these cities who are unemployed help, let them give back for once. Assign them to walk these kids safely to school, how about shut down these gangs, these gangs are domestic terrorists

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

    Hey Don Lemon, "the playing field is not even" for ANYONE who is disadvantaged and does not have a support system, not just blacks.

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

    Thank you once again President Obama for a progressive program to help Americans.

    As always, you will win, and help drag America out of the dark ages. One of the most influential Presidents of our time.

    These are good times for America.

    February 27, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  6. Do you read?

    There are lots of comments here about Obama doing this for "young black men", when it said it was for "youth minority of color", which includes females, Hispanics, Asians, whatever may need assistance. Maybe read the whole thing before getting offended?

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

    Money can't fix what is broken. You can pour money into these problems but until the root of the problem is corrected nothing is going to change.

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

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

    Except they're not. Yeah yeah, numbers and data are inconvenient. Cry us a river. You are more likely to be shot while anywhere in the entire state of Louisiana than you are in Chicago. In fact, the data shows that the states with the least restrictive gun regulations have the highest incidence rates of gun violence and injury. And yes, that means we're talking about deep red states full of conservative whackjobs.

    February 27, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  9. mypitts2

    I'd love for him to make this kind of outreach and urban renewal a hallmark of his post-presidency.

    February 27, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  10. Ssassy78

    For all those who say this initiative is 'racist,' that is not the case. Although I agree that ALL young men (and girls), regardless of race, should receive mentoring and help, the Black community has been under attack from the day this country was colonized. There are many issues that boys of color face that need to be addressed, and programs such as this can go a long way in filling long-established gaps in equity and opportunity. I'm glad someone has stepped up.

    February 27, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  11. Sick of it

    I'm tired of this idea that it's okay to be racist against white people strictly because of what a small percentage of white people did 200 years ago.

    February 27, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  12. Rebecca

    How lucky most of you who have left comments must be that you didn't grow up in situation where this initiative would have been helpful for you.

    To the others that currently need this assistance, I hope you make the most of it.

    To those that had nothing but negative comments, you are just sad.

    February 27, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    " why start another program that divides people"

    Oh? Now that's rich. This program 'divides people"? Do tell. Please, offer an explanation on that so we can all have a good laugh, call you stupid and then point out how CNN deliberately chose its wording for this article in order to turn something completely uncontroversial into a nontroversy.

    February 27, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Ah. You missed it smith.
    I was wrapping up our little exchange from the Teatards 5th anniversary.
    I am aware that you call yourself an independent.
    I'm with whoever is trying to help our country.
    It just so happens that at this point in our history the Republicans are not those people.

    February 27, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  15. Creaso

    Sniffit it helps all but whites I don't know where you get the idea that whites will benefit from this. Just because warren Buffett and bill gates are well off doesn't mean I had a bed to sleep on for the first 13 years of my life. I had no bed and no help and 18 millions whites are left out of a program to help the poverty ridden. Let's ignore the biggest demographic of poverty and make this another race issue further separating Americans.

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

    You are hilarious. How many of you are out there in your communities trying to make a difference? It's not the kids who are the problem, it's the adults. Just read these hateful and irrational post. You have to understand where problems begin in order to apply a remedy. Its okay to help struggling rich business men but not okay for struggling poor underdeveloped youth, and trust me it's not only for blacks in the "ghetto". Your poor white, Asian, Latino, Indian, European child will also be included. Just so happens that blacks are the poster children for poverty, crime, under privileged life. Go on and continue to do what you do best Americans! Nothing but whine and complain your lives away.

    February 27, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  17. Juan lejos

    Nothing this president does anymore surprises me. We still have three more years. I don't think we will survive.

    February 27, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  18. Steve

    I thought he was everyone's president, not just black peoples president. I wouldn't mind if he were out of office and doing this, but in office he's giving preferential treatment.

    February 27, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  19. Harry Calahan

    So young African Americans are the only group that needs help? Seems like Obama doesn't care about any race but his own.

    February 27, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  20. Namerene

    program should be called,....., whos your daddy?

    February 27, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  21. gstlab3

    No room for young minority women or what about the poor whites who everybody believes use more government aid than anyone else?
    Everyone deserves equal opportunity early in life I would agree., but no special treatment should elevate the unqualified or the race and color of the political game in town at any given time.,
    talk about racist and in your face.
    I hate Obama he is unqualified to run or do much beyond community organizer in my humble opinion.

    February 27, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  22. carlos

    White folks don't worry it's just lip to keep hope alive. All blk people need is hope and jesus and everything is peaches and cream. Wake up and pull the wool from over your eye's..

    February 27, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  23. Lynda/Minnesota

    "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.

    Sniffit, I give you credit for reading through all this filth. I find I can't stomach it ... but you are a gem to do so.

    February 27, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
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