Learning To 'Be A Man' Brought Chicago Teen To The White House

Originally published on March 1, 2014 11:03 am
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. On Thursday, President Obama launched My Brother's Keeper. That's a $200 million initiative to be funded by businesses and private foundations over the next five years. It will support projects that have already proven to be a success. One of those is Becoming a Man. That's a program for at-risk high-schoolers who live in Chicago's high-crime areas, which President Obama once represented in the State Senate and which he visited last year. Several of the students from that program were at the White House this week for the launch of My Brother's Keeper. Eighteen-year-old Christian Champagne, who's a junior at Hyde Park Academy, introduced the president of the United States.

CHRISTIAN CHAMPAGNE: Meeting the president and have him tell that my life now is not different from the way his way made me realize I have potential too. Ladies and gentlemen, I now have the honor of introducing you to the president of the United States.


SIMON: Christian Champagne joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHAMPAGNE: You're welcome, man.

SIMON: So, what's it like to introduce the president?

CHAMPAGNE: It was a great experience. I probably won't ever do it again. It was nerve-wracking, to be honest. Like I was super nervous to be up there. 'Cause I have, like, a fear of big crowds staring at me. But I got through it.

SIMON: Very nicely, in fact. May I ask, did the president say something to you that you can share with us?

CHAMPAGNE: HO, he said you'll do great. And then when he walked out, he was all smiling and made me laugh a little bit and that made it better. 'Cause when I laugh, I get happy and I could do stuff when I'm happy. I'm not so stressed out.

SIMON: What's this program, Becoming a Man, meant to you and other students and your friends?

CHAMPAGNE: It means a lot. It gives you insight of how to be a man and take care of your business and have integrity, visionary goal-setting and respect for one another. It helps you be more aware of who you are and what you could do with your life.

SIMON: Tell us a bit about your life, could you, and your family.

CHAMPAGNE: I'm the youngest of six, which is hard to be sometimes, because you get bossed around by everybody in the house. Come from a single-parent home - my mom. Dad was never around. I have sickle cell anemia, so I persevered over that. We had good times and bad times, you know, just like any other family. But we're very close.

SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Champagne, is it rough to be - well, look, we've done stories in Englewood. What's it like to be a young man in Englewood now, surrounded, as I don't have to tell you, by a lot of crime, a lot of drugs, sirens all night?

CHAMPAGNE: Yeah, correct.

SIMON: People who are, you know, afraid to walk the street. What's it like growing up that way?

CHAMPAGNE: Well, it's tough 'cause you got to know when to come outside, when not to come out; when to go to the store, when not to go to the store. You know, cross the street, go left, go right, you know, either way it go, you get, like, A, shot at or, you know, get jumped, get robbed. It's tough.

SIMON: Yeah. And a program like this, how does it help you see things differently and what you should do differently?

CHAMPAGNE: It helped me see things differently by not wanting to be the person that's robbing the good guy, you know. It helped me see that I could do anything with my life and that anything's possible. You know, I could go to the moon right now if I wanted to.

SIMON: Christian Champagne, who is a high school junior in Chicago and part of the Becoming a Man program. All kinds of luck to you, Mr. Champagne. It's been very nice to talk to you.

CHAMPAGNE: Thank you. Been nice to talk to you too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.