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Obama’s Pledge to Help Black and Hispanic Boys Elicits a Range of Reactions

President Obama’s pledge yesterday to marshal an array of government and private resources, including more $200 millions of dollars, to help improve the life chances of Black and Hispanic young men elicited a range of eyebrow-raising responses across the media landscape.

While Don Lemon on CNN offered a teary monologue about overcoming challenges in his life, Bill O-Reilly on Fox News said the president needed to enlist “gangsta rappers” like Jay Z and Kanye West to fix young Black males.

“You are going to have to get people like Jay Z, all right, Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers to knock it off. That’s No. 1,” said O’Reilly, who attended the launch of President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative Thursday, and then had Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett on his show.

Young men “idolize these guys with the hats on backwards, and the terrible rock — rap lyrics and the drugs and all that,” O’Reilly said. He urged Jarrett to ask “gangsta rappers,” athletes and “tattoo guys,” to go on television and tell those who look up to them to “knock it off” and end their destructive behaviors.

O’Reilly also had some advice to reach girls. He said he wanted first lady Michelle Obama to come on his show and say, “You teenage girls. You stop having sex. You stop getting pregnant.”

In fact, teenage pregnancy has plummeted in recent years to all-time lows — with the biggest drops seen among Hispanic and African-American teens.

Obama spoke in a remarkably personal manner as he talked about the need for an initiative to change the plight of Black and Hispanic males.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realized at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House.

“And the only difference was that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving,” he continued. “So when I made a mistake, the consequences were not as severe. I had people who encouraged me, not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders. And they pushed me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself. And If I didn’t listen, they said it again. And if I didn’t listen, they said it a third time and they would give me second chances and third chances. They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.”

Obama mentioned the words he said after the George Zimmerman verdict last year, about the need to do more on behalf of Black boys. He pointed out that he was joined at the announcement by the parents of both Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

After listing the many problems Black and Hispanic boys face and statistics showing how much more likely they are to wind up suspended from school and behind bars, the president pointed out that researchers and educators have identified the efforts that can turn around the lives of boys.

“What we’re talking about here today with My Brother’s Keeper is a more focused effort on boys and young men of color who are having a particularly tough time. And in this effort, government cannot play the only or even the primary role. We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can’t replace the power of a parent who’s reading to that child,” he said. “We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it’s not infected with bias. But nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life. In other words, broadening the horizons for our young men, giving them the tools that they need to succeed will require a sustained effort from all of us. Parents will have to parent and turn off the television and help with homework. Teachers will need to do their part to make sure our kids don’t fall behind and that we’re setting high expectations for those children, and not giving up on them to help young boys at risk of dropping out of school.”

After his speech, MSNBC posted statistics from a recent CDC about father involvement, under the headline “Debunking the ‘absent black father myth.'” The CDC report showed that of those Black fathers who are involved in their children’s lives, they are more active and engaged than fathers of other races. But the fact remains that far too many Black children are growing up without the involvement of their fathers.

On CNN, Don Lemon reported from the White House that he had been moved by the president’s words. He described the advice he gives to young people who ask him how they too can make it as a “strong, Black man” or woman or gay person in the news business.

“I always say stop looking at yourself as other,” said Lemon, who has been attacked by many Blacks for comments about the Black community that many felt missed the proper context. “Yes, we get racism. Yes, we get bigotry… Yes, you can be aware of who you are and you can be proud of your identity and all of those things, but concern yourself with being excellent and then, before you know it, all of those things that you thought were hindrances will be your silent motivators and you will have made it, and you will be doing it, and working in your career and you’ll look back and say, how did I do this?”

Lemon said, “this has nothing to do with what white people think about you, this has to do with what you think about yourself.” He added that this is “one of the reasons, as a gay person, that I came out. I wanted kids who may have been dealing with that to realize, that guy on television is a normal guy. He’s just like me. It is okay.”

“So this has nothing to do with being an Uncle Tom or being white or not being respectful of your race,” Lemon continued. “This has to do with personal responsibility, with what you think about yourself and that you can achieve. Who cares, who gives a damn about racism? It is always going to be there. It has been there since the beginning of time, so you must figure out how you can achieve regardless of that, in spite of that, and that’s what the president was saying.”

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