'This Week': Obama's 'My Brother's Keeper'

Pierre Thomas, Van Jones, Dr. Gail Christopher, and Heather Mac Donald on President Obama's new effort for at-risk youth.
3:00 | 03/02/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Obama's 'My Brother's Keeper'
most buttoned-up presidents, but his raw feelings were on display when he spoke of the young black men who's path he admits could have easily been his own. They are more likely to drop out of school, go to prison or end up murdered. He launched a new initiative called my brother's keeper. Pierre Thomas was there. Reporter: 22,000. That's the number of african-american men murdered in the U.S. In the first four years of the Obama presidency. 22,000. President Obama met these young men on a trip last year to his hometown Chicago. This week, they brought stories of their stark reality to Washington. Tell me what each one of you want to be, and then I want you to tell me what the greatest obstacles are. I want to be an architect and design buildings. The obstacle is the streets, the neighborhoods. Shooting, fighting. Yes. I want to be a criminal profiler for the FBI. The violence. That made me not even to want go to school. I want to be a prosecutor. It's sad you can't walk down the street. You have to pick and choose the right time to leave the house. Just the other day, somebody tried to rob my brother with a gun at the gas station. It's stressful. That's the most overwhelming thing. Reporter: The young men joined Obama to launch my brother's keeper initiative, tying together the best mentoring programs and provide educational and economic opportunities to at-risk youth. For the president, this was clearly personal. When I was their age, I was a lot like them. I didn't have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do me. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. I could see myself in these young men. 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. Reporter: The president is hoping that $350 million from private donations and commitments from leaders of all walks of American life will help parents and young men break the cycle of violence and poverty. This has been around a long time. What does it take to make a difference? I think the most powerful man in the world saying we have a problem, that's president Obama. And now getting people involved. Getting corporate America involved. Reporter: Some of the critics were calling for it earlier, is this something the president wanted to do? Should he have acted earlier? When he took office, the banks were on the verge of collapse, people losing their homes, the economy in free fall, he had two wars going on. Now that the economy is growing. Now is the point we have to make sure that every child has an opportunity. Reporter: Colin Powell said the crisis should not be a partisan issue. He acknowledged that the first african-american president has to walk a tight-rope, lest he be perceived as playing favorites. I think he threaded the needle well. He was concerned, as he has to be as the president of the United States, for all Americans. But when you have a particular unique problem with historic roots to it, and those historic roots continue to contaminate the president, in order to prepare for the future you can't hide from this problem. Reporter: Obama called the plight of so many young people an outrage. 22,000 dead. For "This week," I'm Pierre Thomas, ABC news, Washington. Thanks. And more now from van Jones, Dr. Yale Christopher. Heather McDonald from the Manhattan institute. And let's begin with you, you attended this week at the white house. Kellogg foundation actively involved. But put some meat on the bones of what magic Johnson was saying. What was the specific launch this initiative? We are -- the Kellogg foundation is one of many foundations that have stepped up. Adding the voice of the president of the United States is unprecedented and extremely important. Not only to mobilizing other resources, but also to the young men. We all want what's best for our children. And imagine the experience of every day knowing that people have permission to use deadly force against you even if you aren't armed. To be exposed to schools that are underresourced, to live in fear. So we're very excited that the president has said the norm is not acceptable anymore. I think that's the real power here. And doctor, you welcome some of the words, particularly about fathers, the responsibility of fathers. But you say money isn't necessarily the answer. There was a revolutionary initiative waiting to get out of this speech that never quite made it. The two most important moments were president Obama's moving declaration of the overwhelming sense of responsibility he would have for his son if he had one to keep him out of trouble and give him the sense of compassion and respect for others that he would need to succeed. And the other important point was president Obama's observation that nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his life. And that should have been the theme. How do we rebuild the family and make sure that more children are raised by their fathers? Because the data is clear. Children who grow up in fatherless homes are five times as likely to commit crime or be poor. Nine times as likely to drop out. And 20 times as likely to end up in prison. How do I know this? President Obama said so in 2008 when he was running for the presidency. There's no more important gap than the fatherlessness gap. It affects all Americans, but it's acute for men of color. We should be worried about that. As a dad, and my father was in the home, it made a tremendous difference for me. It's important we hold these young people to high standards and hold the adults to even higher standards. It's hard to climb a ladder out of poverty without rungs. We have to put up the rungs of opportunity for the kids. Everybody who got in trouble in America, Wall Street, we were there for them, the auto industry got in trouble. We were there for the auto industry. You have a generation of young kids who are in trouble. I'm proud the president stepped forward. How will we know if this is working? Well, like all social interventions, we have ways. We have metrics we can follow. Whether the jobs have increased, the graduation rates have increased. We can certainly track the number of young people who have mentors, have people in their lives to guide them. These -- you can count these. One more thing. I agree with what you're saying about fatherhood. But people say, it's just up to the dads. Dads got to do more. But we have this many kids in trouble, we should all do more. It's not either/or. Nobody's been saying that. That's the problem. We have been doing programs, as we should, with compassion and concern for three decades. They haven't made much difference because nobody's willing to talk about fathers and say they're not an optional appendage to children. There's wonderful single mothers doing the best by their kids, but kids need fathers. Until we can rebuild the family -- It's a false argument. Let's talk about it. Obama could have started a discussion about fathers. It is the issue. It is important. It's one of the many issues -- 73% of black children are born to single mothers compared to 29% of white kids. We have to close the gap. These things you talk about are heartbreaking for every african-american. Do you think you need to tell us how terrible this is? We work on it every day. We need corporate America to step up, the president to speak out, we need more than just dads doing better. Let's talk about fathers. Last word. Julius Wilson framed this decades ago, when work disappears, marriage declines. As long as we have communities where there are no job opportunities, where the education systems are failing you will not have an increase in marriage rates. You can't take the fatherhood discussion and isolate it from the reality of the economic challenge. Obama has said too many fathers acting like boys, not men, and nothing prevents you from marrying the mother of your children. That is within your own personal choice. And we have to say that fathers are essential. Amen. I agree. I agree. We have to revisit this. Thank you very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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