Obama's Post-White House Plans Include My Brother's Keeper Effort

Dec 26, 2016
Originally published on December 26, 2016 6:35 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Obama says when he leaves the White House, he and Michelle will take a vacation. They'll catch up on sleep. And then he plans to devote time and energy to an initiative aimed at helping young black and brown men. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: For most of his time in office, President Obama shied away from policies designed to help any particular racial group, saying he wanted to focus instead on promoting opportunity for everyone. But in launching his My Brother's Keeper initiative three years ago, Obama took a different tack, acknowledging all too often the deck is stacked against young African-American and Latino men. And he says addressing that is a national challenge.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The only way we live up to America's promise is if we value every single child, not just our own, and invest in every single child as if they're our own.

HORSLEY: Over the last three years, Obama has enlisted businesspeople, clergy, athletes and celebrities to mentor and show support for young black and brown men. Shortly before Christmas, he met with some of those volunteers, as well as some of the young people who've been helped by their efforts.

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OBAMA: I see myself in these young people. I grew up without a father. There were times where I made poor choices, times where I was adrift. The only difference between me and a lot of other young men is that I grew up in a more forgiving environment.

HORSLEY: Many young people today are not so fortunate. In fact, it was the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin that gave rise to the president's initiative. After the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot the Florida teenager was acquitted, Obama told reporters Trayvon could have been him.

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OBAMA: There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store - that includes me.

HORSLEY: Skeptical of launching a big new government program, Obama instead called for Americans to do some soul searching and to look for ways they could help young black and brown men feel more like full parts of society.

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OBAMA: This is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them a sense that their country cares about them?

HORSLEY: Even before he formally launched My Brother's Keeper, Obama had been working to help young African-American men overcome what are often grim statistics. They're more likely than their white classmates to drop out of school, less likely to find good jobs and more than six times as likely to be murdered. White House adviser Valerie Jarrett recalled that in 2013, Obama met with a group of young men enrolled in a violence prevention program in Chicago. Later, he invited them to the White House for Father's Day.

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VALERIE JARRETT: They gave him a Father's Day card that they had all signed. And one of the young men said, Mr. President, I've never signed a Father's Day card. And the president said, I've never signed one, either.

HORSLEY: Malachi Hernandez, who grew up in a tough part of Boston, saw some of himself in the president's story. He and his brothers often felt like something was missing after their father left home when he was 8 years old. Hernandez got a lift from My Brother's Keeper and is now a student at Northeastern University. He introduced the president at that summit meeting just before Christmas.

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MALACHI HERNANDEZ: He asked, what are some of the things we would like to see? I emphasized to him that all young people need is love.

HORSLEY: Obama says for every young man like Hernandez who's been helped by My Brother's Keeper, there are many more still in need.

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OBAMA: Ensuring that our young people can go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them is the single most important task that we have as a nation. It is the single most important thing we can do for our country's future.

HORSLEY: While the government has a role to play, Obama says citizens have to put their time and effort into it as well. The president says that's something he'll be investing in long after he leaves the White House. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.