At an event that felt like a black church service at times, President Barack Obama spoke in deeply personal terms yesterday about growing up without a father and urged the entire country to get behind his newly-launched “My Brother’s Keeper” program to help young black and Latino men. “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,” the president said of his childhood, with 20 black and Latino boys standing behind him in the White House’s East Room.
He added,”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.” But Obama said he was able to be successful because he had a mother, grandparents and teachers who would “push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself.”
As the president delivered a speech that alternated between talking about public policy and simply giving advice to both the minority boys behind him and those he hoped would watch the speech on television, a predominantly black audience of several hundred that included luminaries like Magic Johnson and Colin Powell several times shouted “amen” and “yes sir.”
“Yes, we need to train our workers, invest in our schools, make college more affordable — and government has a role to play. And, yes, we need to encourage fathers to stick around, and remove the barriers to marriage, and talk openly about things like responsibility and faith and community. In the words of Dr. King, it is not either-or; it is both-and,” Obama said.
The event was the formal launch of “My Brother’s Keeper,” which aims to pool resources of the federal government and also raise money and create new initiatives through businesses and foundations to target black and Latino males. Studies show men of color are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college or get jobs than white men or their female peers.