Equity & Diversity

Barack Obama Discusses Obstacles Facing Young Men of Color

By Sasha Jones — February 20, 2019 2 min read
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On stage with Golden State Warriors basketball player Stephen Curry and a group of young men of color, former President Barack Obama discussed masculinity, self-worth, negative aspects of pop culture, and what it means to be a man of color in today’s world.

The town hall-style appearance on Tuesday was part of a two-day event in Oakland, Calif., to mark the fifth anniversary of My Brother’s Keeper, which was started by Obama after the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin to create opportunities and support for boys and young men of color. In 2015, the initiative included a presidential task force maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. My Brother’s Keeper is now a part of the Obama Foundation and is an independent, nonprofit organization not connected to the government.

As part of the discussion, Obama discussed fatherhood and being raised by a single mother.

“We can all be surrogate fathers. We can all be big brothers,” Obama said in a livestream of the town hall.

In 2014, MBK partnered with the National Basketball Players Association, the National Basketball Retired Players Association, and MENTOR, a mentorship program that connects volunteers to opportunities in their local communities, for a five-year campaign to encourage Americans to become mentors.

Taking questions from the young men who joined them on stage, as well as from online viewers, Obama and Curry also discussed confidence and self-worth.

“We live in a culture where our worth is measured by how much money we have and how famous we are,” Obama said. “I will tell you, at the end of the day, the thing that will give you confidence is not that. I know a lot of rich people that are all messed up.”

The former president added that confidence is built by helping others.

Although Obama acknowledged Let Girls Learn, a global initiative by the Obama Foundation to provide girls with educational opportunities, he also said that men’s lack of communication can result in a issues of masculinity.

“It has to do with socialization, but what that does mean is that there is an ability to talk about vulnerabilities, challenges, doubts, lack of confidence, etc. in settings for women and girls that sometimes aren’t available for men,” Obama said.

Although the conversation also touched on criminal justice, student discipline, and music, masculinity—and how to create a better idea of what masculinity means—was an overarching theme throughout the conversation.

“A lot of the violence and pain that we suffer in our communities arises out of the young men who no one’s said to them what it means to be respected,” Obama said. “Let’s face it: A lot of hip-hop and rap music is built around me showing how I got more money than you, I can disrespect you and you can’t do nothing about it, I’m going to talk about you and punk you. And, ironically, that actually shows the vulnerability that you feel.”

Photo: Former President Barack Obama, left, hugs Golden State Warriors basketball player Stephen Curry after speaking at the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Summit in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. --Jeff Chiu/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.