President Obama said the nation was awakened to the “gulf of mistrust” that exists between local law enforcement and minority communities after the killing of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

“Too many men of color feel targeted by law enforcement ... and the mistrust scars the heart of our children,” he said at the annual Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner Saturday night. [READ OBAMA'S SPEECH TO BLACK CAUCUS]

“That is not the society we want,” he added. “It’s not the society our children deserve. Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that from America.”

For Obama, the CBC dinner offered an opportunity to directly confront the issues in Ferguson for the first time since the controversy over the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb. Mass demonstrations erupted in the aftermath, and the Department of Justice is investigating local authorities for potential civil rights violations. Brown’s parents were in attendance at the dinner.

“I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon,” Obama said to silence.

He insisted that the government and black leaders needed to do more “to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so our communities stay safe and our young people stay on track.”

One way to address that issue, the president explained, was through My Brother’s Keeper program, which is designed to offer greater assistance to minority men that are most likely to drop out of school or have interactions with the criminal justice system.

The president announced he would launch a “Community Challenge” initiative as part of that program, which will ask mayors and local religious and community leaders to  develop a "cradle to college and career strategy" for young men of color.

“Government can’t play the only or even the primary role in the lives of our children, but what we can do is bring people together,” Obama said.

The president said the initiative would “follow the evidence and use the resources on what works for our kids.”

The administration has solicited over $200 million in private donations to be dispersed over the next five years into child development, school readiness, parent engagement, literacy, and school discipline reform programs. And Obama has asked friends — including NBA stars like Chris Paul and Magic Johnson — and administration officials to help create tutoring programs, and held a series of events where he’s spoken candidly about his own childhood struggles with drug use and being abandoned by his father. 

The president said black leaders also needed to encourage their communities to get out the vote in November’s elections.

He recalled meeting people on the road, who would say that he looked tired and that they were praying for him.

“I say thank you,” he explained. “I believe in the power of prayer. but we need more than prayer. We need to vote. That will be helpful. it will not relieve me of my gray hair but it’ll help me pass some bills.”

Obama rallied black lawmakers with his rousing speech, though at times his relationship with the caucus has been strained. Three years ago  at their annual dinner, he told members to "stop crying" and to stick with him.

This time the president implored those in attendance to lead voter registration drives, saying members of their communities “need to know how to register and they need to know how and when to vote.”

Obama also offered praise for Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderEric Holder group to sue Georgia over redistricting Eric Holder to Trump: 'Taking a knee is not without precedent' Juan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering MORE, who announced his retirement this week nearly six years in his position.

“He has been a great friend of mine. He has been a fateful servant of the american people. We will miss him badly,” Obama said.