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. carlos

    This is what the whites have done to people of color, so why do you get mad when your on the other side of the stick. Just chill people of color are not evil natured like white people, you will be loved if you are a moral human.

    February 27, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  2. TooClose2DC

    This is a racist program plain and simple. It may be needed but it is needed by all. To limit it to "youth of color" is violating the CRA.

    February 27, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  3. 2016 or bust!

    Okay so some are saying being privately funded makes a blatantly racist program okay. Sorry poor white folks...you had your chance....now step to the back... this program is only for minority youth of color. I'd certainly say there are some true colors showing right about now!

    February 27, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  4. Government Waste Rules

    Obama grew up on the rough and tumble streets of Hawaii so he knows what it's like out there yo!

    February 27, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Oh and I thought the article was going to be about Ted Nugents sensible brother.

    February 27, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  6. sps2011

    Obama does more for blacks than for whites Asians or Latinos, that is obvious.

    February 27, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC


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


    February 27, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  8. 2Sliqq

    Look for the negative.
    You are GUARANTEED to find it.

    February 27, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  9. Catherine_comment

    Outstanding. Now add any youth that is at risk regardless of ethnicity. We all have a vested interest in those coming behind us..

    February 27, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  10. Wes

    Isn't white a color?

    February 27, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  11. tbone

    Why don't he just have the Police and National Guard clean up those neighborhoods?
    Instead of spending more money, remove the problem from those areas.
    Gangs are the problem.
    200 Million doesn't solve that problem.

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

    He is one of the main reasons why racism is where it is today, and we all know it,he has taken it to a whole new level

    February 27, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  13. tommysaint1

    Cut military but throw more money at welfare recipients...Awesome, you think this guy cares about America...Nope. Not by the way he keeps wasting money. And yes it is wasted money, colored youths benefit from most welfare and have advantages of minority scholarships, obamacare, obama phones etc.. its a blackhole for cash (no pun intended)

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

    Hmmm. Is this initiative in direct response to Bill O'Reilly's Super Bowl interview to Obama about this very issue? According to the Pres., he talks about this "all the time, but the media never reports it." Which seems strange if indeed he speaks about it all the time.

    I'm going to assume O'Reilly gets credit for this one.

    February 27, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  15. Dr Ching

    Does he want to reduce sentences for minorities as well? I sure can't see any way that'll go wrong..
    “I just had an environment that was a little more forgiving, so when I screwed up, the consequences weren’t as high as when kids on the South Side screw up.”

    February 27, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  16. NameLV

    This is a racism, it should all be to all kinds of youth. Not only colored people. It should be to all American youths not cherry picking!!! Every youths have problelms.

    February 27, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. Romeo

    President Obama has a big heart, but a short-term memory problem. He seems to have forgot the real culprit of his problem which is a lot of black youth dropping out of high school. He should first try to fund initatives that would help encourage black youth to graduate from high school.

    February 27, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  18. sps2011

    I voted Obama because he was different , a black, a first and so on. But I wonder if Obama would do that ? If you were to watch his inauguration ceremony the number of blacks on the podium far outnumbered whites save for some token whites, latinos and one token country singer.

    February 27, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  19. DaveinIL

    $200 million in private donations over five years towards programs aimed at minority youth of color.

    What does that mean?? Must be more to report than that.

    February 27, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  20. volsocal

    Zero information in the article about what this program really is and what it might cost the taxpayers.

    February 27, 2014 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  21. IceSeeYou

    So 200 million towards programs helping the black American man?...So its sounds or atleast CNN has written it in a way that these programs already exist. So begs to ask the question they are not doing a good job so far?...
    A billion dollars for the Ukraine...200 millions towards questionable programs?.....How can this president sit there with a straight face and pretend like America actually has any money to give??......I am all for helping fellow citizens regardless of color religion culture etc. However something that helps all regardless of who it is. Not creating more divisions more strife more hatred and resentment towards each other!!

    February 27, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  22. jrs1972

    leading foundations and businesses will donate at least $200 million over five years towards programs aimed at minority youth of color.
    change that to "white youth" and you have the proverbial racist "poopstorm". Disgusting reverse racism.

    February 27, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  23. Dead Bear

    The guy could cure cancer and achieve world peace but republicans would still hate him. All one has to do is look at Ted Nugent to understand why.

    February 27, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  24. hopefulspam

    Way to stimulate more racism in this country Mr. President. People, especially black people should be angry at our president for continuing the stigma that black people need more assistance than white people. We are all in this together, and we should ALL be treated equally. Until that happens, racism will thrive!!!

    February 27, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  25. Wake up People!

    LV. We are not colored, we are black. Colored went out in the 50's. You sound like the racist.

    Look at all these jealous people but it's ok to only hire whites for good jobs and blacks for cleaning up behind the whites.


    February 27, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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