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Obama: More must be done for our young minorities

Initiative aims to improve access

President Barack Obama, next to White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, left, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, meets with foundation and business leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, where he discussed his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to expand opportunity for minority boys and young men. Former Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson, far left partially obscured, also attended. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Barack Obama, next to White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, left, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, meets with foundation and business leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, where he discussed his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to expand opportunity for minority boys and young men. Former Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson, far left partially obscured, also attended. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Obama launched his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative yesterday, urging stronger efforts to create more opportunities for young minority men and to improve conditions that keep them impoverished and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers.

Obama said these young men consistently do worse in society, with odds stacked against them. “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,” Obama said, ticking off statistics on fatherhood, literacy, crime and poverty.

“We assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is,” Obama said, to applause.

He said there have been improvements – “My presence is a testament to that progress,” Obama said. But he said more must be done because it’s a moral and economic issue facing the country.

Obama spoke from the White House East Room flanked by teenagers involved in the Becoming a Man program to help at-risk boys in his hometown of Chicago. He said he sees himself in them.

“I made bad choices. I got high, not always thinking about the harm it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short,” Obama said.

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.

Meanwhile, Obama signed a presidential memorandum creating a government-wide task force to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches, so that federal and local governments, community groups and businesses will have best practices to follow in the future. An online “What Works” portal will provide public access to data about programs that improve outcomes for young minority men.

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