It’s not often you hear the President of the United States stand in the East Room and admit to using drugs. But on Thursday, he did, while announcing a new initiative called “My Brother’s Keeper.”
President Barack Obama talked about growing up angry and alienated without a father, a story that resonates particularly with at-risk youth.
“I made bad choices,” the president said. “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. … And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so that when I made a mistake, the consequences were not as severe. I had people who encouraged me, not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders. … They never gave up on me. And so I didn’t give up on myself.”
After five years in office, the plight of black and Latino men and boys has the president’s attention. His new initiative hopes to build on the successes of programs like KIPP High School in the Bronx. This year, 100 percent of its seniors have applied to college.
“I think young men of color face a stacked deck,” Ramon De Jesus, a KIPP counselor, told CBS News.
A kid from the neighborhood, he was the first in his family to graduate from high school and then college. Obama, he said, cuts through.
“His appearance, that’s all the kids need,” De Jesus said. ” He doesn’t have to say a word. ‘I am the president of the United States. Don’t I kind of look like you?'”
Adrian Portella is one of De Jesus’ mentees. Four colleges have already accepted him, and he’s waiting for more.
“I really want to go away, and I want to see the world for what it is and not just be trapped by where I live now,” he said.
High standards and up-close motivation personify Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” ethic.
“Everybody knows that you’re going to college or you’re going to do something besides work for the rest of your life if you come straight out of high school,” Portella said. “Everybody believes that you will get a diploma. Everybody believes that if you want to try to go to Harvard, why not?”
It’s a question the president is asking, too.