By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that violent protests like the ones in Baltimore are fueled by a “sense of unfairness and of powerlessness” in some communities, as he helped launch a private-sector initiative aimed at boosting opportunities for minority young people.
Americans believe that everyone deserves “an equal shot” at success if they’re willing to work for it, Obama said at an event in the Bronx launching the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit inspired by the White House initiative called My Brother’s Keeper.
“Some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them,” he said. “There’s a tragic history in this country that has made it tougher for some. And folks living in those communities, and especially young people living in those communities, could use some help to change those odds.”
The new organization aims to build “a national ecosystem” to help boys and young men of color, primarily through educational initiatives and intervention programs designed to close what Obama called the “opportunity gap,” boosting education and employment rates that lag behind those of their peers.
“In every community in America, there are young people with incredible drive and talent and they just don’t have the same kinds of chances that somebody like me had,” Obama said. “They’re just as talented as me, just as smart. They don’t get a chance.”
Speaking earlier after a roundtable discussion that included students from around the country, Obama said he heard stories from some who had been “stopped and put on the ground by police for no reason,” or attend schools that “don’t seem to be invested in their success.”
He also noted in his remarks later that addressing situations like those in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., or New York need to go beyond policing strategies.
“If we ask the police to simply contain and control problems that we ourselves have been unwilling to invest and solve, that’s not fair to the communities. It’s not fair to the police,” he said.
The president’s frustration with the inability to tackle these structural issues through the political system is what helped inspire the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
The new MBK Alliance is being led by Joe Echevarria, former CEO of consulting firm Deloitte, who helped coordinate private-sector involvement in the president’s initiative since it was launched last year. Musician John Legend will serve as the honorary chairman, heading a board and advisory council that include more than four dozen other current and former elected officials, pro athletes, celebrities and business leaders.
Its mission is the same one that first drew Obama into public service, the president noted, and one he committed himself to continuing after he leaves the White House in two years.
“We are in this for the long haul,” he said. “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.”
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Photo: Yianni Mathioudakis via Flickr