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. Silence DoGood

    @president for ALL Americans
    "What about poor white young men – don't they count?"
    If Bush could start "faith initiatives" executive orders funneling money to his favorite religious sects, Obama can certainly pull this off. Did you say "what about the other religions?" at the time?

    February 27, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  2. jm

    Naked racism

    February 27, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  3. Chappy Sinclair

    200 million down the drain.

    February 27, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  4. 2016 or bust!

    So the businesses that he wants to raise taxes on will be the ones to provide funding for his pet project? Maybe he's going to sell them PC points as an incentive. This "do-nothing serious" socialist is a joke. Bullet proof vests for kids (Barack) and no sugary snacks in school (Michele).....like someone said....this is an amature president.

    February 27, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  5. jlegarr

    Had a white president created a program for young white men he would be called a racist

    February 27, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  6. echo40

    " minority youth of color" hahahahahaha.... Asian are less than 6% of US population, but you can bet on it Asians are not count as " minority" in any of his "programs". Let's just call a spade a spade, this is a program only target Blacks and Hispanics.

    February 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  7. nick

    What would happen if Bush passed a bill to strictly promote poor youth and having them only be caucasian.

    February 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  8. Jim B

    Here we go again. It's about the Blacks. Don't White, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian – ALL kids face these issues!!!
    I'm sick of this President who wants to divide us.

    February 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  9. 1375

    Yes thank YOU Mr. President for excluding whites. And thank YOU MR. Holder for only prosecuting white on black crime (like the knockout game which is kind of ironic since blacks invented it) but not black on white crime. Fine examples from the "enlightened" left and their followers.

    February 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  10. Silence DoGood

    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.
    "leading foundations and businesses will donate "
    I knew some fact-free parrot would type away without reading the actual article.

    February 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  11. Tucker Jones

    I like that there is an initiative to help youth, but I think it should help ALL youth, not just a certain sector. Crime and poverty affect everyone regardless of skin color.

    February 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  12. John M

    note to self: when my kids need bullet proof vests for school its time to M O V E!!

    February 27, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  13. dywlf

    Cutting the military, putting soldiers out of work but he's sure taking care of the brotha's.

    February 27, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  14. LTC

    More racist crap!!! More money for the Blacks..... No whites get a chance
    Just people of color???? WHITE is a color also. This pres, and CNN
    Are racist and we keep clapping and voting our selfs out.

    February 27, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  15. sonny chapman

    Steve-If CNN showed a pic of Obama kissing his daughters Goodnight, somebody would have a complaint. Lotsa unhappy folks out there. Stop It ! It's unhealthy & a waste of the Gift of Life by the Creator !

    February 27, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  16. Dave

    2 words for this.... Bull crap

    February 27, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. LTC

    Where I live in jax fla, it is my brutta's killa.

    February 27, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  18. Jungg

    How about we help all of the less fortunates, instead of garnering votes by only helping ones "of color"?

    February 27, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Read the bill and you will find it does include "poor white kids" who are also minorities.

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

    Another two hundred million down the drain most of which will end up in organizers pockets. At least it isn't tax dollars.

    February 27, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  21. O'drama ya Mama

    Ah yes the "what about white people" rant. Arent you guys always putting up statistics on here about how blacks cause the most crime and live in poverty and are on welfare, etc. So isnt this something that fixes what you complain about?

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesnt.

    February 27, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  22. Jungg

    What a sick joke. This administration's r@cist double-standard is astounding.

    February 27, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  23. Jungg

    Looks like you can't post anything critical of the administration without it awaiting moderation. Way to remain impartial.

    February 27, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  24. iceload

    I thought this wasn't legal anymore.

    February 27, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  25. Kathy, AZ

    ---– I'm an older White woman who thinks this is EXCELLENT. I love that President Obama is a role model for kids everywhere who grew up without a father, and I like that he puts his (so to speak) "money where his mouth is". He's a good-hearted father, husband & just plain man, in general. ---- I so wish his mom & grandparents could have lived to see what a wonderful man he turned out to be. Since they aren't here to be proud, I'll be proud for them.

    February 27, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
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