Obama Tells At-Risk Teens “I Got High”

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President Obama delivered an unusually personal speech at the White House on Thursday at the launch event for My Brother’s Keeper– his new initiative aimed at helping young men of color overcome their circumstances and succeed despite odds being stacked against them.

Accompanied by a a group of young black males, the president listened and spoke about his past experiences to the group. “I explained to them that when I was their age, I was a lot like them,” the president said at the White House today, recounting his conversation with the boys.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it 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.”

Opening up about his history in a way he rarely does publicly, the president explained “I could see myself in these young men. And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving. So when I made a mistake, the consequences were not as severe. I had people who encouraged me… They never gave up on me. And so I didn’t give up on myself.”

President Obama met with the group of boys for the first time last February and was profoundly affected by their discussion. His response was to launch My Brother’s Keeper, which philanthropies and corporate leaders have pledged to invest at least $200 million in over the next five years.  The funds will help “figure out which programs are the most successful in helping young men of color and replicate them in communities across the country,” says the official White House statement. Sternly speaking to the nation, the president urges citizens not to become “numb to the statistics.”

“We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is,” he said to applause. “But these statistics should break our hearts. And they should compel us to act.”

Learn more about My Brother’s Keeper at Watch President Obama’s speech below.

(Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)