How Obama Wielded the Presidential Megaphone

At high-profile moments, President Barack Obama used the stature of the office to champion young people's education and well-being, sometimes in starkly personal terms.

How Obama Wielded the Presidential Megaphone

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At certain moments during his presidency, Barack Obama used the stature of the office to champion young people’s education and well-being — often in starkly personal terms.

My Brother's Keeper

Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in 2014 to help improve the lives of boys and young men of color and close achievement gaps. It was begun in conjunction with $200 million in private investments from foundations to boost 3rd grade literacy, school discipline reform, and parent engagement, among other policies. Last month, Obama said he would remain committed to My Brother’s Keeper after leaving the White House.

PHOTO: Young men listen intently as President Barack Obama speaks about the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington.
CREDIT: J. Scott Applewhite/AP-File

Racial Bias and Law Enforcement

After the fatal 2012 shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a civilian neighborhood-watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, touched off a national debate about race and the law, Obama commented that if he had had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. The president also used the incident to highlight racial bias in police departments, the black community’s perspective on violence and law enforcement, and legal approaches to self-defense and gun violence.

PHOTO: Wearing a hooded sweatshirt, Zafia Slaughter, 5, of Washington, holds a sign saying "Stand Up For Trayvon," at a rally following the fatal shooting of the black teenager in Florida by a volunteer neighborhood watchman. The national debate ignited by the shooting drew high-profile remarks from the president.
CREDIT: Jacquelyn Martin/AP-File

Sandy Hook Shootings

Speaking after a former student killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Obama said "our hearts are broken today" and urged Congress to take action on gun control despite political differences. He also invoked the Sandy Hook victims, along with victims of shootings in Arizona, Colorado, and Virginia, at the conclusion of his 2013 State of the Union address. "They deserve a vote" on proposals like a ban on large ammunition magazines and gun resales to criminals, Obama said. However, Obama’s gun-control proposals tied to the shootings in Newtown were ultimately rejected by federal lawmakers.

American Indian Education

Obama attempted to bolster Native American education, and his administration labeled Native American youths the country’s most vulnerable population. His administration awarded grants including those to boost college and career prospects for American Indian and Alaskan Native youth.

He also backed plans to turn more control of education over to American Indian tribes and to have the much-criticized Bureau of Indian Education shift away from directly operating schools and instead become a “school improvement organization” somewhat similar to a state education department. Some tribes were skeptical of the proposal, though others have moved ahead.

TOP PHOTO: An emotional president pauses as he speaks about the youngest victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. He was later thwarted in efforts to prod action from Congress aimed at preventing gun violence.
CREDIT: Jacquelyn Martin/AP-File

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A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2017 edition of Education Week as Presidential Megaphone