President Obama vowed to continue working to expand opportunities for young men and boys of color after he leaves office during the final My Brother's Keeper Summit at the White House on Wednesday.
"This is something that I will be invested in for the rest of my life," said Obama.
Speaking from a podium in the South Court Auditorium, with seven young men who have been mentored by the President standing behind him, Obama said the initiative he launched in 2014 to address the persistent gaps in opportunities facing young men in black and brown communities was not about him or his presidency. "It's about all of us working together," he said. "Because ensuring that all of our young people go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them is the single most important task that we have as a nation. It is the single most important thing we can do for our country's future."
The President was inspired to launch the initiative, which is aimed at helping minority young men and boys reach their full potential through mentoring programs and employment opportunities, in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death. In the time since its launch, around 250 communities have signed on to the "My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge," through which leaders pledge to commit resources to helping young men and boys. On Tuesday, the Obama Administration announced that more private- and public-sector groups had pledged to support the initiative in various ways, including a commitment by the NBA to recruit 25,000 new adult mentors. The President himself has served as a mentor to young men, including seven who stood behind him clad in suits as he spoke on Wednesday.
"The young people behind me are proof that a little love, a little support allow them to achieve anything they can dream, anything they can conceive," Obama said of the young people, most of whom were college students. "I've heard their stories and I've seen young men like this grow into confident, capable, responsible men."
While the summit was the last of the Obama presidency, it will not be the last convening for Obama's legacy program. On Wednesday, the White House said the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, the White House program's private-sector counterpart, would host a national summit in 2017 as well as continue making investments in the localities that accepted the "Challenge." The Alliance will also begin hosting an online platform to house data and to host training programs.
The President called for more involvement in the program during his remarks at the final My Brother's Keeper summit, but said relying on government to solve the problems facing communities across the country is not the answer. "While it is important for us to push and prod government at every level to make the investments that are necessary to ensure that our schools are properly funded and teaching kids what they need to learn," he said, "we can't wait for government to do it for us. We've got to make sure that we're out there showing what works."
"It is as a consequence of neglect over generations that so many of these challenges exist. We shouldn't expect that we're going to solve these problems overnight," Obama said. "But we've got proof about what happens when we give folks a little love and you act on that love."