WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama spoke in unusually personal terms at the White House on Thursday about how he got high as a teenager and was at times indifferent to school as he deplored what he called America’s numbness to the plight of young black men.
Drawing on the power of his own racial identity in a way he seldom does as president, Obama sought to connect his personal narrative about growing up without a father to that of a generation of black youths in the United States who he said faced higher odds of failure than their peers.
“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” Obama said as he announced a $200 million, five-year initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, to help young black men. “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.”
On Thursday, the president combined his personal remarks on race with a broader call to focus on “the larger agenda”: economic insecurity and stalled mobility for Americans of any color.
“The plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society,” Obama said, “groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions, groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations.”
The president also called for action from business leaders, members of religious groups, actors, athletes and anyone who can intervene in the lives of black men before they veer off course.
“It doesn’t take that much, but it takes more than we are doing now,” Obama said. “We will beat the odds. We need to give every child — no matter what they look like, no matter where they live — the ability to meet their full potential.”
He also challenged black men to do better themselves, and said they must not make excuses for their failures or blame society for the poor decisions they have made.