WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama Thursday urged people to help African-American and Latino boys and young men succeed by joining his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.
The president announced "some of the most forward-looking foundations in America" are ready to invest at least $200 million over the next five years, above and beyond the $150 million they've already put in, "to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country."
Obama said his initiative wouldn't be another big, new government program, but that the executive memorandum he was signing would direct the federal government "not to spend more money, but to do things smarter."
Obama, speaking to a group gathered in the East Room of the White House that included the parents of slain black teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and minority teens from Chicago's Becoming a Man program (B.A.M.), which provides a safe place to learn skills, said that while his presence is testimony to the "enormous strides" African-American and Latino men have made in the United States, a gap remains between them and whites.
"We don't need to stereotype and pretend that there's only dysfunction out there," Obama said. "But 50 years after Dr. [Martin Luther] King talked about his dream for America's children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure, and is worse for boys and young men."
"And the worst part is we've become numb to these statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.
"But these statistics should break our hearts. And they should compel us to act."
Obama said his effort to do something to change the cultural dynamics was to reach out to "a wide range of people" and "pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, non-profits, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success."
The president said "My Brother's Keeper" is a call for "a sustained effort from all of us" to help minority boys and young men.
"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," Obama 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.
"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.
"Business leaders will need to create more mentorships and apprenticeships to show more young people what careers are out there.
"Tech leaders will need to open young eyes to fields like computer science and engineering.
"Faith leaders will need to help our young men develop the values and ethical framework that is the foundation for a good and productive life."