Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'My Brother's Keeper' To Expand Opportunities For Young Men Of Color


President Obama says he wants to address the kinds of social problems exposed in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. That work is likely to dominate his public life after he leaves the White House. He's focusing on the lack of opportunity for young men of color. And yesterday, the president made plans to act using private money. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: With the unrest in Baltimore still fresh in the national mind, President Obama went to the Bronx in New York yesterday to announce an offshoot of the My Brother's Keeper initiative, created at the White House in 2014 after the Trayvon Martin killing. The new My Brother's Keeper Alliance is a private effort, funded by companies such as American Express and News Corps, to provide education, job training and mentoring for young men of color. The goal, the president said, is to make sure equality of opportunity is not an empty promise.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And we won't get there as long as kids in Baltimore or Ferguson or New York or Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or the Pine Ridge Reservation believe that their lives are somehow worth less.

LIASSON: The target is communities with 30, 40, 50 percent unemployment where positive male role models are scarce. The president said he's interested in responsibility and results, not blame, but he didn't hesitate to indirectly implicate the Republican Congress.


OBAMA: Politicians talk about poverty and inequality and then gut policies that help alleviate poverty or reverse inequality.


LIASSON: The president's inability to pass programs he thinks would help, like a higher minimum wage or universal prekindergarten, is part of the reason he's reaching out to the private sector. Howard University professor Michael Fauntroy says Mr. Obama is constrained in what he can do to solve these problems.

MICHAEL FAUNTROY: There's no question in my mind that if the president says it's sunny outside, there going to be people in Congress who says he hates the rain, and that's just a function of the way the relationship is. I will also say that it's really frustrating for many of us who observe what's going on in these kinds of communities every day, that there's a whole lot of attention spent on the blame but not the spark that actually lit the flame.

LIASSON: Political analyst Michelle Bernard says many in the African-American community are relieved the president is feeling some urgency about these inner-city issues.

MICHELLE BERNARD: He has absolutely nothing to lose. Early on in his administration, I was somebody who always said he is not the president of black America, he is president of the entire United States of America. But we have seen acts of overt racism actually become more visible since he has been president, and if he doesn't vocally say something very strong about it, who will?

LIASSON: President Obama says this is the issue that will preoccupy him long after he leaves the White House. We're in this for the long haul, he said yesterday.


OBAMA: This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.


FAUNTROY: Isn't that ironic...

LIASSON: Michael Fauntroy.

FAUNTROY: ...That a candidate who in 2008 was all too willing to accept the applause for being the first viable African-American candidate for president would then govern for eight years with not a whole lot of attention to it and then it appears that he's actually going to do more work on it when he's not president than when he was?

LIASSON: The president said My Brother's Keeper will be a sustained effort to focus on policies that work, such as making sure boys are reading at grade level by third grade, intervening to prevent school suspensions and finding mentors to help boys graduate, go to college and find jobs. It's a huge task and one that could define Barack Obama's life after he leaves office. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.