“By almost every measure the group that’s facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color,” President Barack Obama said on Thursday, as he unveiled his My Brother’s Keeper initiative which has been set in place to promote stronger efforts to create opportunities for young men of color and to improve conditions that keep these young minorities poor and imprisoned.

Under Obama’s initiative, businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate their investments to come up with, or support, programs that keep youths in school and out of the criminal justice system, while improving their access to higher education. Several foundations pledged at least $200 million over five years to promote that goal.[NBC]

During his speech in the White House East Room, the president explained that he saw himself in many of the young minority men present on Thursday. Obama said he grew up in a home without a father and that it angered him. He also said that he made many mistakes, including getting high and not taking school seriously. He said that his mistakes were more easily forgiven than those of the young minority men of today.

Not only did he take responsibility for himself and his actions and the future efforts that will support young American men of color, but he reminded these young men that they have a responsibility as well. Though the president acknowledged the serious difficulties these young Americans face, he urged them to take responsibility for themselves and to forge on. Obama also touched on the idea that these barriers and injustices have become societal norms and instead of the immoral, national disgraces that they are, they are viewed as an average way of American life.

The point was I could see myself in these young men. And 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. 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.

I told these young men my story then, and I repeat it now, because I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had. That’s why we are here today, to do what we can in this year of action to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices, and to be resilient and overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.

And the problem of stagnant wages, and economic insecurity and stalled mobility are issues that affect all demographic groups across the country. My administration’s policies from early childhood education to job training to minimum wages are designed to give a hand up to everybody, every child, every American willing to work hard and take responsibility for their own success. That’s the larger agenda.

The plain fact is, there are some Americans who in the aggregate are consistently doing worse in our society. Groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique way that require unique solutions, groups who have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations.And 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.

Now, to say this is not to deny the enormous strides we’ve made in closing the gaps that have mired our history for so long. My presence is a testimony to that Across the businesses, military, communities in every state, we see extraordinary examples of African-American and Latino men who are standing tall and leading and building businesses and making our country stronger. Some of those role models who have defied the odds are here with us today. You know, the Magic Johnsons or the Colin Powells — who are doing extraordinary things — the Anthony Foxxes. Anthony and I were talking yesterday about how both of us never knew our dads, and shared that sense of both how hard that had been, but also how that had driven us to succeed in many ways.

So those are examples of extraordinary achievement. We all know that. We don’t need to stereotype that there is no dysfunction out there. But 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America’s children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances, the average black or brown child in this country, lags behind by almost every measure and is worse for boys and young men. If you’re African-American, there’s about one-in-two chance you grow up without a father in your house. Too, if you’re Latino, you have about one-in-four chance.

We know boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor and as a black student you are less likely to read as proficient in the fourth grade. By the time you reach high school, you are far more likely to have been suspended or expelled. There’s a higher chance you end up in the criminal justice system. And a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime. Fewer black and Latino men participate in the labor force, compared to young white men. And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults. And 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. That’s how we think about it.

[Full Transcript Via CNN] [Via NBC]

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