“They know they’re going to face some obstacles along the way, sometimes some discouragement, because all too often the world underestimates young men like these. They know that their stories and their success can also help change the narrative.” – President Barack Obama
Outside the Roosevelt Room this week, President Barack Obama posed for a photo surrounded by 15 graduates of the White House’s mentorship and leadership program: They were all young men, all Black, and students of color.
“When we give outstanding young people like this a chance, they can succeed,” Obama said during a White House ceremony this week. “They just need a little bit of help. They just need a little bit of encouragement. Maybe a contact here or two. A mentor who is willing to show them the ropes. Somebody who is helping them to set their sights high.”
The White House program offers more than two dozen people from the Washington, D.C. metro area an opportunity to be mentored by staffers and advisors in the White House and the Obama administration.
As the nation approaches Father’s Day this Sunday, it’s refreshing to see these young Black men and young men of color being exposed to opportunities and experiences that may change their lives forever.
Some of these young men may have active fathers in their lives, some, like Obama, did not. And while Obama is certainly not their father, he is without a doubt, a father figure.
After one young man told the president that he hoped to become U.S. Attorney General one day, Obama explained the process.
“I walked him through all the other steps: He had to go to college; he had to graduate from college; you had to take the LSAT; he had to get into a law school,” Obama said.
“I took 10 minutes just going through the whole path … and I thought maybe that would make Gerard back off a little bit,” the president explained. “Instead he said, ‘OK.’ He didn’t seem too fazed by it.”
And Obama didn’t stop there: He arranged for the teen to shadow then-Attorney General Eric Holder. This is what a genuine mentorship program should be about: connecting young people to successful people – some of them powerful people — who can help shape their lives and guide their professional paths.
But there’s another profound component: Obama, the nation’s first African American president, is ensuring that Black men and men of color will benefit directly from his tenure in office.
At a time when Republicans on Capitol Hill are cutting social programs and blocking most of the president’s legislative agenda, Obama is circumventing Congress to help improve the quality of life for young men who look like him.
Obama has already created “My Brother’s Keeper,” – a national initiative designed to empower Black boys and young men of color through mentorship programs, education initiatives, and millions of dollars in corporate pledges.
But this week, for Obama, it was about 15 young males who were embraced and inspired by a Black president.
“This has been a great, mutual learning relationship between me and these outstanding young people,” Obama said.
The young men have participated in a number of activities over the past year, ranging from résumé workshops in the Roosevelt Room to pick-up basketball games with the president on the White House basketball court.
This extraordinary White House experience could be a game changer for these young men of color. Imagine the possibilities.
What do you think?