COMMENTARY: Obama Promotes New Plan For Black Neighborhoods, Mentors Young Black Men

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President Barack Obama has a bold plan for uplifting black America and the White House wants African Americans to know it.

Sitting inside the White House, I listened to Valarie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser, speak passionately about Obama’s ambitious goal to rehabilitate 20 poor communities across the country where black people have struggled for years.

The plan to renovate some of the nation’s most devastated black neighborhoods is part of a broad strategy to help improve the quality of life for many black Americans and includes Obama focusing on a myriad of challenges facing young black men as he begins his second term in the White House.

Obama traveled to the South Side of Chicago last week and spoke to 16 black male students who are growing up poor, troubled, and some without fathers in their lives.

The students, who attend Hyde Park Academy High School, are part of an anti-youth violence program called “Becoming A Man” (B.A.M.) that teaches at-risk students about violence prevention, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression and respect for women.

“This is very personal for him because he didn’t have a father,” Jarrett said of the president during a one-hour session at the White House with six African American journalists.  “He was raised by a single mom so he knows the challenges.”

“I think he takes his role as a mentor very seriously and he leads by example,” said Jarrett, perhaps the president’s most trusted White House confidant. “He goes home for dinner every night; he is a present and involved father.”

And, Jarrett added: “The president might say that at some point in his childhood he may have been at risk too so hopefully they will identify with him.”

Jarrett said the president chose to deliver his speech at the Hyde Park Academy High School because the neighborhood is a mile from his home — a predominantly black community of poor residents, urban blight, and unemployed black men, but it’s also an area that has seen progress in recent years with new housing and banks.

And meeting with young black men who are at-risk, Jarrett said, served as a profound moment in Obama’s presidency.

“Children today are growing up thinking it’s perfectly normal to have a president who is African American,” Jarrett said Thursday. “Eight years of having a black president is going to be a good chunk of their childhood. And that’s good for the country.”

Obama also addressed 500 students at the Hyde Park school in a speech that touched on his push for gun control legislation, urban gun violence and the senseless murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

Pendleton was shot and killed on Jan. 29 when a gunman opened fire on her group of friends who were sitting in a Chicago park. She performed at Obama’s inauguration just days before she was murdered. The two suspects who were charged in Pendleton’s murder are black men.

Last week, the White House invited Hadiya’s parents — Cleopatra and Nathaniel Pendleton — as guests for the president’s State of the Union address. During his speech, Obama introduced the issue of urban gun violence on a national stage while skillfully linking his gun control lobbying to inner city crime. Chicago’s homicide rate continues to soar, the consequence of urban gang violence.

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