Tyren Thompson, a senior at Hyde Park Academy and a member of B.A.M who met privately with Obama, said the president’s personal story resonated with him.
“He [was] cool,” Thompson told reporters, adding that like Obama, he also grew up without a father. “He was raised in a single-parent home. I was too, so I felt like we had a connection there.”
Thompson said the president’s hour-long message “opened my eyes,” adding that Obama was inspiring. “Keep pushing,” Thompson said. “Even if you think you can’t do it no more, just keep pushing.”
Some could argue that Obama’s choice to speak directly to black male teenagers represents a sea change in the way the White House promotes its black agenda.
When asked about the president’s perceived reluctance to discuss race publicly, Jarrett said the White House plans to do a better job communicating its social and economic policies to the black community.
“We’re not afraid to say this is going to help black people,” Jarrett said.
In May, the president plans to continue reaching out to young black men by addressing students at Morehouse College during the annual commencement ceremony.
As I walked along the White House grounds this week, I was reminded of how a black, progressive-thinking president can have such a profound impact on the lives of the nation’s black citizens just by showing up for a simple conversation.
It makes a difference because Obama is willing to look black boys straight in the eye and listen to their concerns; it makes a difference because Jarrett is in the room when issues about urban revitalization are being discussed; and it makes a difference because First Lady Michelle Obama hails from the South Side of Chicago and brings a black sensibility to the West Wing.
I’m not suggesting that one visit to Chicago will suddenly revive the black community overnight, but if the president can turn around just one life on Friday, then it’s well worth the trip. It’s also a good start to four more years in office and I’m hoping the president will spend even more time mentoring young black men during his tenure.
“These young men [had] an opportunity to meet with the president of the United States and talk to him about the challenges they face in life and look to him as probably one of the best role models they will ever meet,” Jarrett said. “It’s a great opportunity for them and a great opportunity for the president.”
In the weeks ahead, as the president settles into his second term in the Oval Office, look for the White House to share more about its plans for uplifting black America with Obama leading the way.
(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Cottman)