February 27th, 2014
03:40 PM ET
8 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. sonny chapman

    He sounds like a Christian; but how do we REALLY know? "You will be known as my followers by the love you have for each other"-John 13,35.

    February 27, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  2. Dennis Downey

    Damn, must be nice to be able to afford a bullet proof vest for school. Luckily, no white kids suffer poverty and lack of opportunity. It's just lazy whites fault that they can't get ahead, because everyone knows that whites get all the breaks.

    February 27, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  3. president for ALL Americans

    What about poor white young men – don't they count?

    February 27, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    It's privately funded, which should mean that Pres. Obama's critics really don't have anything to complain about, but they will.

    February 27, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  5. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the majority repub/tea bag members

    "My Brother's Keeper." It's an administration initiative where leading foundations and businesses will donate at least $200 million over five years towards programs aimed at minority youth of color.

    Admirable program – RWNJs everywhere will complain, though.

    February 27, 2014 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  6. Wake up People!

    Thank you Mr. President! Our youth need this. They also need more role models like yourself and AG Holder.

    February 27, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  7. Bill from GA

    What we need are safe, effective schools, AND students who go there to LEARN.

    i see a lot of our Black youth when I am shopping in my neighborhood, and it seems clear to me who is interested in advancing in life, and who mainly wants to 'be cool'.

    There are two High Schools in my area. One has the coolest marching band in the state; Tyler Perry featured them in a TV series a few years back. The other has average SAT scores about 200 points higher (SAT scores for Metro Atlanta are published yearly in the newspaper). I imagine the biggest difference is in the values of their parents.

    Students who go to school to get a good education will need a lot less help; they can compete as equals. Maybe our President could use his influence to encourage better values in our youth. His wife has done so, in healthy eating, and it is working.

    February 27, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  8. eric

    interesting that fox news is carrying this speach live right now on there website but cnn is not

    February 27, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  9. salty dog

    Cue the hate in 3,2,1.

    February 27, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  10. jsl123

    Can't they see that their culture is sick and needs healing?

    February 27, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  11. budwhite451

    Anyone who voted against this bill are a disgrace. These veterans sacrifice their lives, their health so you could live in a democratic society. SHAME ON YOU.000

    February 27, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  12. Nam kathleenbowen

    Oh how refreshing the presidents new imitative is to hear about our brothers keeper. There are multiple programs in many states but the major news media do not seek it out to report it as 78 it old female wherever I shop I speak to young black maies and ask are they I school or college if I get a no answer I. Always continue my conversation regarding furthering their education and do not let time catch up with them. Believe it. Or not this is a. Daily practice for me. Thank you mr president and all whom all present today for a wonderful cause and kicko off. Thank you jesus

    February 27, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  13. yogi

    Did I miss something? What is the purpose of the initiative. No information in the article ?!?!?!

    February 27, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  14. What Is This?

    CNN, I think you left off half of the article – what *is* the initiative??

    February 27, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  15. deee510

    I hope the people who claim that blacks need to take responsibility for our youth don't start whining that Obama is trying to help the black youth

    February 27, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  16. Linda

    As a white female over 50 I think I just hot smacked down in own country 3 different ways. And I'm a Democrat who voted twice for this man. This is the first tine I've felt as if maybe I threw my vote away.

    February 27, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  17. george

    What is wrong with this person in the W.H. Chair...Drumming all this stuff up because we are nearing the Mid Term Elections...who does he think he is kidding?

    February 27, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  18. Wow!

    I guess the redistribution of wealth is not going as fast as planned...Americans are by far the most charitable people in the world...and we should not be forced to donate to causes via taxes.

    February 27, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  19. Josh

    This makes me more frustrated! Watching Obama on Tv just encourages me to think he is who is racist. "Young black men" are not the only people who help. Also, work to better yourself! I work more than 40hrs to better myself

    February 27, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  20. Umm what?

    The programs name is offensive. Come on now.

    February 27, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  21. shades

    what a joke this pres is, can we move the clock ahead 3 years already

    February 27, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  22. Mike

    Funny how it's not racist to have a program like this that a poor white boy can't apply. Just children of color. I guess "equality" only goes one way

    February 27, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  23. salty dog

    Its privately funded, but the gop hates it anyway, true colors shine brightly sometimes.

    February 27, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. Fyzo

    Lets keep propping up the lower class and leaving the middle class to rot. can't wait until this criminal gets booted out of washington.

    February 27, 2014 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  25. Steve

    First I read comments on other stories about how Obama should do something about all the black violence and other problems and then when he actually wants do do something he gets blamed for not doing it for whites too. Some people don't like Obama regardless. We get that.

    Thanks Mr. President for trying hard in spite of the naysayers.

    February 27, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
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