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President Barack Obama has a bold plan for uplifting black America and the White House wants African Americans to know it.

Sitting inside the White House, I listened to Valarie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser, speak passionately about Obama’s ambitious goal to rehabilitate 20 poor communities across the country where black people have struggled for years.

The plan to renovate some of the nation’s most devastated black neighborhoods is part of a broad strategy to help improve the quality of life for many black Americans and includes Obama focusing on a myriad of challenges facing young black men as he begins his second term in the White House.

Obama traveled to the South Side of Chicago last week and spoke to 16 black male students who are growing up poor, troubled, and some without fathers in their lives.

The students, who attend Hyde Park Academy High School, are part of an anti-youth violence program called “Becoming A Man” (B.A.M.) that teaches at-risk students about violence prevention, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression and respect for women.

“This is very personal for him because he didn’t have a father,” Jarrett said of the president during a one-hour session at the White House with six African American journalists.  “He was raised by a single mom so he knows the challenges.”

“I think he takes his role as a mentor very seriously and he leads by example,” said Jarrett, perhaps the president’s most trusted White House confidant. “He goes home for dinner every night; he is a present and involved father.”

And, Jarrett added: “The president might say that at some point in his childhood he may have been at risk too so hopefully they will identify with him.”

Jarrett said the president chose to deliver his speech at the Hyde Park Academy High School because the neighborhood is a mile from his home — a predominantly black community of poor residents, urban blight, and unemployed black men, but it’s also an area that has seen progress in recent years with new housing and banks.

And meeting with young black men who are at-risk, Jarrett said, served as a profound moment in Obama’s presidency.

“Children today are growing up thinking it’s perfectly normal to have a president who is African American,” Jarrett said Thursday. “Eight years of having a black president is going to be a good chunk of their childhood. And that’s good for the country.”

Obama also addressed 500 students at the Hyde Park school in a speech that touched on his push for gun control legislation, urban gun violence and the senseless murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

Pendleton was shot and killed on Jan. 29 when a gunman opened fire on her group of friends who were sitting in a Chicago park. She performed at Obama’s inauguration just days before she was murdered. The two suspects who were charged in Pendleton’s murder are black men.

Last week, the White House invited Hadiya’s parents — Cleopatra and Nathaniel Pendleton — as guests for the president’s State of the Union address. During his speech, Obama introduced the issue of urban gun violence on a national stage while skillfully linking his gun control lobbying to inner city crime. Chicago’s homicide rate continues to soar, the consequence of urban gang violence.

Tyren Thompson, a senior at Hyde Park Academy and a member of B.A.M who met privately with Obama, said the president’s personal story resonated with him.

“He [was] cool,” Thompson told reporters, adding that like Obama, he also grew up without a father. “He was raised in a single-parent home. I was too, so I felt like we had a connection there.”

Thompson said the president’s hour-long message “opened my eyes,” adding that Obama was inspiring. “Keep pushing,” Thompson said. “Even if you think you can’t do it no more, just keep pushing.”

Some could argue that Obama’s choice to speak directly to black male teenagers represents a sea change in the way the White House promotes its black agenda.

When asked about the president’s perceived reluctance to discuss race publicly, Jarrett said the White House plans to do a better job communicating its social and economic policies to the black community.

“We’re not afraid to say this is going to help black people,” Jarrett said.

In May, the president plans to continue reaching out to young black men by addressing students at Morehouse College during the annual commencement ceremony.

As I walked along the White House grounds this week, I was reminded of how a black, progressive-thinking president can have such a profound impact on the lives of the nation’s black citizens just by showing up for a simple conversation.

It makes a difference because Obama is willing to look black boys straight in the eye and listen to their concerns; it makes a difference because Jarrett is in the room when issues about urban revitalization are being discussed; and it makes a difference because First Lady Michelle Obama hails from the South Side of Chicago and brings a black sensibility to the West Wing.

I’m not suggesting that one visit to Chicago will suddenly revive the black community overnight, but if the president can turn around just one life on Friday, then it’s well worth the trip. It’s also a good start to four more years in office and I’m hoping the president will spend even more time mentoring young black men during his tenure.

“These young men [had] an opportunity to meet with the president of the United States and talk to him about the challenges they face in life and look to him as probably one of the best role models they will ever meet,” Jarrett said. “It’s a great opportunity for them and a great opportunity for the president.”

In the weeks ahead, as the president settles into his second term in the Oval Office, look for the White House to share more about its plans for uplifting black America with Obama leading the way.

(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Cottman)

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20 thoughts on “COMMENTARY: Obama Promotes New Plan For Black Neighborhoods, Mentors Young Black Men

  1. joseph on said:

    look hispanics are fucking everything up and there are huge as companies that dont hire whites either. they make good money too one of my illegal buddies showed me his check and he dont pay taxes. people got be tough Psalm 1 says whatever you put your hands to u will prosper. well i worked for free believing god to pay me i bought a vehicle and tools with 4 dollars an hour. i beat the hell out of 3 kkk members with only a crowbar twice in the same day with gods help. prayed for a man to get a broken leg and he got one for lacing my coffee with cocain and meth to keep me from getting a job and guess what i got a better one different location same company.

  2. I want to know why President Obama supports and promotes abortion, has no problem using gov’t funds to pay for abortions, knowing that AAs have the highest abortion rates of any other race in the U.S. And why is he granting amnesty and work permits to illegals knowing that there are not enough jobs being created and this will only create competition for the few jobs that are available. Why is Obama pushing for same-sex marriage instead of promoting strong family values with moms and dads raising their kids together… where’s that platform? I want to see our president put as much emphasis on strong family values as he is in promoting same-sex marriage. We have abortion clinics (planned parent hood) why not set up family counseling too to help struggling families make it work. Why not set up job skills training centers instead of welfare offices… the money is being spent, might as well get some skills so that people can work, build, create, and have more opportunities available to them? Why doesn’t this get equal attention, where is it on the Obama’s list of priorities?

  3. Dr. Benjamin Carson, this guy is my new hero…read/watch his story. If he can make a life for himself then anybody can do it…it takes hard work and determination, but that’s also what builds strong character and dignity. The opportunity is there, but kids don’t want to go to school, they don’t want to do their homework, they don’t want to learn how to read and work math problems… but for those who do, those who dream of a better life, it’s there if they want it. It just doesn’t happen for any body, we all have to work hard to earn a better life… all of my family members had to make conscious decisions to get out of bed everyday, go to work, do a good job, get promoted, gain skills… it didn’t just happen over night and it didn’t just happen because we’re white… we had to work for it. I’m sick of the victim mentality. These kids getting shot at 2am or 4am… everybody knows aint’ nothing good going on after midnight… but they make the decision to hang out anyway where they can get shot. How about this, make the decision to go to bed. Blacks have got to stop playing the blame game and start making decisions that will help them get ahead. For example, take advantage of free education, when a teacher gives you an assignment, do it. When your mom says go to bed, go to bed… don’t hang out with your friends. If you don’t have enough money to buy what you want, find a way to earn money, chores, clean houses, wash cars, babysit, wash windows, something… but don’t steal. You see people doing drugs, you see how they act, you know ppl go to jail for buying/selling drugs… then stay away from drugs. It all comes down to the decisions you make…. it always has and it always will.

  4. They are closing inner city schools by the dozen. I mentioned this a while back. The Black Panther Party put in place some programs that our goverment shut down because they seen how the programs they installed would make it more difficult for them(Our Goverment) to control the black mind. Well they gave us the opportunity to get these young brothers and sisters heads right. So you bro and sisters(teachers) who are unemployed,sitting home doing nothing. put your heads together pull out the Black Panther book on there lunch, and educational programs. They gave us the opportunity to re-build.

  5. Chris40 on said:

    Sumthin ain’t right!!!!! Blacks didn’t have an Black agenda before the elections. How did a plan for “da hood” and mentoring come up. For fixing up Black neighborhoods, we (Black people) should b easking ourselves, “who in the white house though up this plan and who was involved in the planning.” Didn’t Black people do the “revitalization” thang before, in urban renewal. Old heads told me that urban renewal was Negro removal!!!! I don’t know bout the mentoring thang. I have to think about that one. Obama or any politician shouldn’t have to come up with an Black agenda, that’s Black people’s responsibility!!!!

  6. Cindy Cruz on said:

    I would expect our President to shoot us straight and promote responsibility in our youth and strive to create policies that strengthen families and not destroy them.

    Democracies don’t age well because humans are not created equally. Some work harder, innovate, take risks, make sacrifices, etc., that many others are not creative enough, knowledgeable enough or willing to make. The inherent difference in each human being leads to inequality. Those at the bottom end of the scale will naturally feel cheated and now they have a president that empathizes with them. The culture of hard work and self-reliance has been replaced with dependence and victimization because those at the lower end of the scale have realized they can vote themselves an ever-increasing share of other people’s money.

  7. Re: Obama’s opportunity to do the extraordinary re: Black America’s Urgent Issues/Ills —

    It’s definitely not rocket science. POTUS Obama could pull it off and make it happen without negatively impeding his required time and attention needed to handle other top priorities. Not as Black America public relations ploy or dog / pony show, but as real and workable actions to achieve desired results. Given POTUS Obama’s wide support in America and elsewhere worldwide, therein is his available gold mine of available leadership, teams, time, money, and all other required resources to avoid total reliance, if any at all, on federal government funds. Off the top of my head I’ve thought of 30 actions Obama could take, but hey he’s got paid staff to think and brainstorm. Let’s see what, if anything, Obama and his so-called extremely “smart” / “bright” WH guys and girls can rapidly come up with that can and will be done by Obama to begin work on making an extraordinary difference of historic proportion.

  8. African Americans chill regarding No-Backbone-Obama until he rapidly grows and shows one. For four years this man wouldn’t even utter the two words “African Americans” on camera or print record. Obama-man is literally forced to visit his hometown of Chicago to address youth violence there and finally does directly speak to poor black youth as a result of a black female high school honor student being killed and by virtue of both media articles and serious grumblings of not only blacks in Chicago’s poor African American communities but blacks nationwide regarding his total lack of attention given to black youth violence, among Black America’s other urgent issues, and black people are quick ready to jump happy? For African Americans to do so is entirely premature.

    Given the about time escalation of African Americans’ ability to finally see past Obama’s 2008 historic election, skin color, speeches, and campaign slogans realizing that the major and quite urgent immediate concerns, issues, and ills of Black America are absolutely not on Obama’s list of top priorities beyond lip service for re-election, based on clear evidence of Obama’s lack of any bold, tangible, and immediate actions to seriously address incredibly high and rising African American unemployment, poverty, youth violence, and rampant despair, apparently African Americans including black media nationwide are rightly resurrecting their backbones to seriously question and also confront Obama’s brazen neglect.

    Whether or not Obama’s problem regarding his refusal to address Black America’s urgent issues has been largely due to political pimp opportunism bait and switch or political timidness, the fact is Obama has the greatest opportunity of any black man ever in the history of America to extraordinarily change the negative, despairing, and destructive mind-set of under-educated poor and low-income black youth and adults nationwide, but he needs to realize and rapidly act on this opportunity foremost in conjunction with bold actions to urgently address African Americans’ economic and education issues.

    Obama more than any other black person in the history of America has the prime opportunity by virtue of his powerful two-fold position as the first African American POTUS to do something extraordinary if he would but rapidly realize and fearlessly act on it. He has the opportunity not only to break-thru and change the negative, despairing, and destructive mind-set of uneducated poor and low-income African American youth and adults nationwide, but to also boldly demand, call upon, and lead bringing together all African Americans nationwide of all ages and occupations possessing education and economic stability together with African Americans without such to commit to proactively and effectively help Obama change negative mind-sets and despair, mentor, help educate, hire and uplift uneducated black youth and adults nationwide.

    Obama has the extraordinary opportunity to and can effectively bridge the education and economic class divide among African Americans. Obama could indeed do far much more to visit, reach out to, and change the mind’s and heart’s of poor, uneducated, low-self esteemed, despairing, and violent black youth nationwide bringing to bear the strength together of all African Americans and even others if necessary. Were Obama’s mind, heart, and commitment determined to do so, such an endeavor would absolutely not be impossible, but instead doable and its great success would be historic.

  9. 55th st silverbacks on said:

    I COMMEND THE PRESIDENT , taking time to address this plight that has grown even stronger. it comes at a time when the communties we live in are being gentrified , now is a perfect time for all men (and in particular african men) in these communties to discuss regaining our neighborhoods for the purpose of opening stores and businesses that are owned and operated by our neighors. part of what i see as a african man living in chicago’s south and westside areas is a need to be connected to where we live but what is happening is as the properties are renovated the residents are priced out. the businesses are owned by people that have no stake in the area. and are from other countries , what does it truly say to a man using his rightful mind when u live in a country that has enslaved your ancestors and created a living enviroment of struggle for there desendents. please do not mistake my words for someone that has no sense of self government , the minds that are at stake our adolesent and are formed by the struggle that is life in a poor communitIes

    • Ivan Cohen on said:

      To 55th st silverbacks

      I see the same similar things you do right here in Savannah, Ga. Regarding those businesses you referred to that have no stake in the area, I see them as two-way take-outs. We, black people take out their gasoline, their food, their lottery tickets, etc. They take our money over to their communities. One can make a contrast between the community that has all the advantages to sustain it and the community which resembles a third world country.

  10. I came across this. Writer, Kevin Jackson – “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Democrats control everything these days, with the epicenters being America’s largest cities. In many cases in local and state elections, the Democrats have no Republican challenger. The outcome is cities infested with crime, the worst schools, and corruption rivaling most third-world nations. But black people don’t care about being screwed…just make sure it’s by a Democrat!

    In Missouri, T. D. El Amin sold out his own people, the black people of St. Louis for $2100. He had no qualms about screwing black people, and why should he. He was only doing to blacks what Democrats of all colors have been doing to black people for decades. Black people don’t mind, as long as they get the table scraps the Democrats promised dating back to LBJ’s The Great Society. Blacks get welfare, just not real opportunity.

    At the national level Obama’s culture of corruption promises black people The Promise Land. He pits black against white, rich against poor, in an effort to continue to Democrats’ strategy of dealing with blacks. In the end black people end up with what Democrats have delivered to us for decades–slavery in a different form. And just like slavery began in America, it’s Africans selling us out.”

    • 55th st silverbacks on said:

      okay enough , let’s stop the bashing of a man that is in a place where all he can do is encourage us to do what it has always been in our power to do , take control of ourselves. thehistory of politics has always left us out in the cold. when it was the demoncrats that wanted to keep us in chains the republicans saw the opportunity to spread fear and we then voted for them and were shafted. the heavy lifting required to bring us to a place where black history month displays our commitment to eachother in the present. the means to understand were we are today as a people and a nation today is in our true history , bitter and bloody lies that have formed these united states.

    • Ivan Cohen on said:

      While I am not familar with T.D. El Amin of Missouri but what you have outlined, he is copying the ways of a modern day slavemaster. I’m not naive to think that Republicans wouldn’t screw black people either. The difference is that one political party will use vaseline and the other political party will just dry hump ya minus the vaseline. I would point out and it can be looked up that no black people and no poor people had any input in the structure of the Great Society. Some northern cities didn’t embrace the program because they felt their ability to control the purse strings was being undermined. Some southern cities and towns believed that Great Society programs gave blacks, negroes as we were called then an inflated ego, caused us to be “uppity” caused us to get “out of our place.” But peep this, Franklin Roosevelt had the New Deal, John F. Kennedy had the New Frontier, Lyndon B. Johnson had the Great Society, yet Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have no themes identifying their administrations. One of those things that make you go hmmm.

  11. President Obama has taken the black community for granted. And we have let him. We overwhelmingly voted for him in 2 elections. Yes, we did it because as usual we had to go to the polls and vote for the lesser of two evils. But even so, we expect far more from this President than we are getting. African Americans who have never bothered to vote previously came out because of this man. Why? They thought: ‘finally our issues will be attended to.’ That has not happened.

    I am personally appalled by his federal minimum of $9 an hour. I am equally appalled by his inability to take positive ACTION on the issue of student loan debt. I am disheartened by the lack of jobs.

    Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. You have shamed me, Mr. President.

    • Ivan Cohen on said:

      In essence, President Obama walked on egg shells during his first term. His handlers, it is what it is, positioned him to be a “safe” candidate. President Barack Obama is the quintessential “racial diplomat”. Maybe not by choice but those who ran his campaign had to position him to reassure Mainstream America that if elected, he wouldn’t give the store away. Some pundits and Tom Joyner doesn’t get off the hook either kept saying cut him(Obama) some slack, give him some time, he’s not just president of black America. Well his campaign team kept the President in our face during the election more so than they did in white America, so who’s zooming who here? To think it took the murder of a young black girl from Chicago who had participated in his inaugural ceremonies for the Obama administration to finally acknowledge blacks. But watch what they do as opposed to what they say.

    • Chris40 on said:

      “President Obama has taken the black community for granted. And we have let him. We overwhelmingly voted for him in 2 elections. Yes, we did it because as usual we had to go to the polls and vote for the lesser of two evils. But even so, we expect far more from this President than we are getting. African Americans who have never bothered to vote previously came out because of this man. Why? They thought: ‘finally our issues will be attended to.’ That has not happened.”

      True dat on your post. But, Black people didn’t ask Obama for anything like the GBLT and Latino/Hispanic community did. Obama had to “give it up” to those groups I mentioned and look at what they got, Obama speaking on Gay marriage and immigration heavy!!!!!

  12. Kirsanow and Thernstrom’s letter to Obama details the bleak economic plight African-Americans are presently experiencing:

    The country’s economic woes have disproportionately harmed African-Americans, especially those with little education. In 2011 24.6 percent of African-Americans without a high school diploma were unemployed, as were 15.5 percent of African-Americans with only a high school diploma. Two and half years into the economic recovery, African-Americans face particular difficulty obtaining employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonally adjusted January 2013 unemployment rate for all black Americans – not just those with few skills – was 13.8 percent, nearly twice the white unemployment rate of 7.0 percent. The economy has a glut of low-skilled workers, not a shortage.

    The civil rights leaders end the letter by urging the president not to exacerbate the economic struggles facing African-Americans by granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.

    “Not only do illegal immigrants compete for jobs with African-Americans,” wrote Kirsanow and Thernstrom, “but that competition drives down wages for the jobs that are available… We respectfully submit that granting such legal status is not without substantial costs to American workers.”

    • Ivan Cohen on said:

      African-Americans aren’t falling over themselves to do the back breaking work of picking produce in the fields. However when one switches to the urban areas and the construction projects, Latinos are generally doing the work. To see African-Americans in construction work, they are few and far between. The civil rights leaders could help the black community by advocating for apprentice positions on these construction jobs and the landscape work. These leaders have to agitate for things that upgrade low-skilled workers to high-skilled workers. They(civil rights leaders) have yet to master economics. The other American workers are going to have their economic game plan together.

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