President Obama announced a $200 million philanthropic commitment Thursday to catapult the lives of young men of color.
The program, dubbed "My Brother's Keeper," will look to coordinate businesses and government "to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices and to be resilient and to overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams, the president said.
During the White House ceremony, he empathized with black and Hispanic men who believed they were facing impossible odds and were angered by absentee parents and harsh consequences.
"I made bad choices," Obama admitted. "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."
The president also announced that he was naming a task force to examine how government policies impact boys of color. Colin Powell, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NBA hall-of-famer Magic Johnson, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver were in attendance.
The parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, both black Florida teens whose shooters avoided murder convictions, were in the crowd and acknowledged by the president.
"In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I spoke about the need to bolster and reinforce our young men," Obama said.
Efforts receiving funding through the program will include those targeting early child development and school readiness, parenting and parent engagement, third grade literacy, and school discipline reform.
Programs helping reduce minority interactions with the criminal justice system and improve health and economic opportunities will also be among those evaluated by the task force, which has three months to design an plan for coordinating the $200 million in commitments.
According to the White House, the panel will also work across the federal government to assess the impact of federal policies on boys of color, create an online portal of programs that have a proven record of success, and recommend ways the White House can continue to partner with the private sector on outreach efforts. The effort will be chaired by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson.
Still, Obama stressed the role that parents and neighbors had in helping young men of color navigate the world.
"We can reform our criminal justice system to make sure it's not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son's life," Obama said.
Obama stressed that "My Brother's Keeper is not some big new government program."
"Parents will have to parent, and turn off the television and help with homework," he said.
The president also acknowledged Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, saying he was evidence that "the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of these old arguments."
"If I can persuade [Rev. Al] Sharpton and O'Reilly to be in the same meeting, then it means there are people of good faith who want to get things done," Obama said.
During an interview with O’Reilly ahead of the Super Bowl earlier this month, Obama defended his administration’s efforts to address problems within minority communities.
“We address it explicitly all the time. … Talking about the importance of men taking responsibility for their children. Talking about the importance of young people delaying gratification. Talking about the importance of when it comes to child rearing, paying child support, spending time with your kids, reading with them. So, whether it’s getting publicity or not is a whole different question,” Obama said.
The program also corresponds with the president’s “Year of Action” messaging campaign, which has focused on Obama’s efforts to use his regulatory authorities and ability to corral philanthropic support to achieve policy proposals without needing legislation. Earlier this year, Obama rallied private corporations, foundations and universities to improve school access for poor children and end discrimination against the long-term unemployed in hiring practices.
This story was updated at 5:00 p.m.