By: Leah Uko
OMAHA (KPTM) – Making Black men a part of success was a message President Obama pushed for Thursday.
Obama used told his past story as a way to announce his $200 million, five-year initiative, "My Brother's Keeper" to help young, Black 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," Obama continued. "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 I should have. I made excuses."
He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a "moral issue for our country" and urged nonprofit organizations, religious groups, athletes and actors to intervene in the lives of young Black men before they veer off course.
"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."
Obama also discussed statistics about how minorities are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim and how these statistics are a result of systematic failure in the country.
"We become numb to these statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm," Obama continued. "We just assume that this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is."
Eighth grade student at McMillan Magnet Center, Jeffrey Froiland said he agreed with the president that Black youth are unequally punished for wrongdoing.
"Sure. You see a lot of them in jail and using drugs and alcohol," Froiland continued. "But on the other hand you look over here and you see a lot of white people doing the same thing. They might not be getting in as much trouble for it, but they do the same thing."
Froiland added that he felt Black youth have less support from peers and adults.
"If you just say someone is bad obviously they're going to turn out bad, but if you give them a chance then hopefully they have a chance to turn out better than what you were hoping for," Froiland said.
Froiland, who is originally from Haiti, said if it weren't for organizations like 100 Black Men and his adoptive parents, he would not have had a chance to become the elite scholar he became. He felt other men of color should have the same shot at success.
"They're so bored that they find trouble all the time and so keeping them involved and finding money to help with programs like that helps them stay involved in the community and in their school."
Anthony Wood, who is a sophomore at Omaha North Magnet High School, said he felt Black youth are put at an unfair disadvantage.
"It's kind of difficult for us to, I guess, learn as others do because there's more obstacles in our way," Wood said. "We get the feeling that we're not better—I mean not better, but that we're not as smart and bright and able to compete on their level."
President Obama also challenged Black men to take responsibility for their own actions by saying they shouldn't make excuses for their failures or blame society for the poor decision they made in their past.
"You will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society's lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future," Obama said.
He encouraged Black men to take the courage and "tune out the naysayers" who don't believe in their potential.
More than a dozen nonprofit organizations, along with retired basketball star Magic Johnson and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell came out to show support for "My Brother's Keeper".
White House officials said the foundations had pledged to spend at least $200 million over the next five years in a search for solutions to the problems Black men face with early-childhood development, school readiness, educational opportunity, discipline, parenting and the criminal justice system.