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My Brother's Keeper

Aired February 27, 2014 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, the president, unfiltered like you've never heard him before.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm it could do.

LEMON: And he puts America's young men of color on notice.

OBAMA: It's ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.

LEMON: This is a CNN special, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER.


LEMON: Good evening, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. I'm so happy that you could join us tonight. Welcome to a CNN special presentation that's called MY BROTHER'S KEEPER.

Today President Barack Obama struck a chord on race, talking very personally about his own upbringing, openly discussing his struggles as a black kid growing up without a father figure for much of his life. His message for America: Everyone should have the opportunities he did.


OBAMA: 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.

After I was finished, the guy sitting next to me said, "Are you talking about you?"

I said, "Yes." And the point was, 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.


LEMON: The president talking about meeting with a group of youth in Chicago last year back in February.

I'm very pleased to have a very special group joining me to talk about this remarkable speech from the president today. I'm honored to have former CNN anchor Bernie Shaw; and Michael Skolnik of Michael was at the White House with me for the president's speech. Professor Boyce Watkins is a radio talk show host. Mo Ivory and our White House senior correspondent Jim Acosta is here with us, as well. And we'll have others join us throughout the evening. So again, thank you all for joining us.

I want to go to you first, Bernard Shaw. You sat in this seat long before I did and really, you know, made a way for people like me. Now the president wants to make a way for young men like him. What struck you about the president's words and tone today?

BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: The president, in effect, in his declaration of intent and purpose, sent me all the way back to my Chicago roots on the South Side, growing up in Washington Park, and Hyde Park and Woodlawn.

I thought about a great renowned community organizer, who inspired this president, Saul Alinsky, and those people who worked in the Woodlawn organization.

The president saying that today's youth must accept responsibility for their actions. And I thought how fortunate I was to have grown up in an environment where I could go to the Woodlawn Chicago's Boys Club, where I could go and become a junior lifeguard within the Chicago park district system, where I could grow up and be president of my student council in high school at Dunbar, and become president of the city- wide school councils in all public schools. And the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, the program that encouraged us.

The president is talking about framework. That framework does not exist routinely in all the cities across the country. It was a clarion call. It was a challenge. It's just the beginning.

LEMON: Yes, and I'm going to talk more about this at the end of the show. But I say this, and people will -- I want you to hear me out. The president became the black president today, and that is not a bad thing.

Sitting in that room today, it -- Magic Johnson put it to me this way. He said, "Don, I felt like we were in church today." You were there. Did you get that very same feeling?

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, GLOBALGRIND.COM: I think it was a family affair. I think folks around him in that room want him to succeed, want him to succeed with this program that we've been waiting for, for many years, to really focus on young men of color, and not just black young men but Latinos, as well, and Asians, as well and the Pacific islanders, as well.

But to see the response from the people in that room, those congressional members there and senators there and people from the business community. And Trayvon Martin's family was there, and Jordan Davis's family was there. And folks who want the president to succeed with this program.

LEMON: Bernie Shaw said it's going to take some time; it's not going to happen overnight. The president said that this initiative is going to take time, and he showed some tough love, as well. Listen.


OBAMA: Part of our message in this initiative is, no excuses. Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We've got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience. That's what we're here for.

But you've got responsibilities, too. And I know you can meet the challenge -- many of you already are -- if you make the effort.


LEMON: Saw Bernie Shaw listening intently there.

I want to go out to our White House correspondent, though, Jim Acosta. Jim, you know, you have covered this president for a long time. Is this a sign -- this is -- this is really a new phase for the president, one of more candor, and one of, it appears to be coming more into his own. Is this a sign, do you believe, of what's to come a little bit later on in the Obama administration and even after he leaves office?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think so. This -- this is a big part of his legacy, Don.

And, you know, he was really speaking emotionally and personally in ways that we haven't seen in some time, since perhaps the race speech that he gave when he was running for president way back in 2008.

And when I was listening to the president's words today, you know, it was not really, you know, a marshaling of resources. Yes, he has gotten assurances for about $200 million for programs for at-risk youth in inner cities and so forth. This was a marshaling of presidential power. This was a marshaling of the bully pulpit to go into those inner-city communities, to go into those barrios and say to these young men, you know, not just that you can be president one day, but "I, the president, was once you." And I think that was a very important message.

LEMON: Jim, question why -- speaking to many people who have been, you know, at the White House, stationed there for a long time covering the White House -- producers, correspondents. I don't get to the White House that often, except for the occasional invite to the Christmas party. But this, according to most, was one of the more interesting days at the White House.

ACOSTA: That's right.

LEMON: One of the busier days at the White House. The press briefing room open late, having interviews with young people from around the country. Why was this so different today?

ACOSTA: You know, it's not every day, Don, that we have Colin Powell and Magic Johnson and all these wonderful young men in the same room.

And I talked to a senior White House official earlier today who said, you know, this show of force from that community, from the African- American community, really touched this president, really connected with him.

And you know, I don't know if you noticed, Don, but people here at the White House noticed, the president was speaking off the cuff during a large portion of his remarks today. He was ad-libbing a lot of those remarks. Because a lot of it, I'm told from officials, was -- this was coming from the heart.

And so, you know, this is not the President Obama that we see every day tangling with Republicans up on Capitol Hill, you know, warning Vladimir Putin, no provocative actions when it comes to Ukraine. This was a president who finally had a chance to say to the civil rights community, "Yes, I know you've been saying to me that I need to pay attention to this part of our community." And I think that is what the president wanted to lay out and accomplish today, and I think he did it.

LEMON: Jim, thank you.

I want to -- that's perfect setup now to Boyce Watkins.

Boyce Watkins, I'm going to talk to you a little bit more about that right after the break, because I understand that you have been critical of the president, thinking that he should have done this sooner. The Congressional Black Caucus, many in the black community have been saying that, as well.

As a matter of fact, I want to play something for you. According to the census, there are about 6.7 million young black men under the age of 21, and the president spoke today about the challenge they face. Listen and then we'll talk.


OBAMA: As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in fourth grade. By the time you reach high school, you're far more likely to have been suspended or expelled. There's a higher chance you end up in the criminal justice system. And a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime.

And the worst part is, we've become numb to these statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm.


LEMON: Considering the criticism that I spoke about and what the president had to say there, we have become numb. In some ways has the president become numb, Boyce Watkins? Why -- why do you believe he should have done this sooner?

BOYCE WATKINS, PROFESSOR: Well, you know, I will say that I agree with my friends, Michael Fauntroy (ph) and father Michael Pfleger, who you know, have advocated for black men for a very long time, that this initiative might call in the category of better late than never.

I, like a lot of people, picked up sincerity in the president's voice. I think that he's really trying to do something worthwhile here, and he deserves tremendous credit for that.

I think, at the same time, we have to look at everything in the entirety. We have to realize that six or seven years ago, that black males all throughout many urban areas across America were experiencing unemployment rates that would be unacceptable for any group of people in America.

And I think that somebody has to make sure that we understand that when you look at incarceration, when you look at the educational system, when you look at what's happening economically, black men have pretty much been pushed into -- into the toilet of America.

And so I think that this initiative is amazing. I think that the president has a chance to truly make a significant mark in black history. And I really hope that everything that we saw today was sincere. Because I was -- I was very impressed, and I'm really hopeful that this is -- that this is the turn of the tide.

LEMON: Is that a sign that you are willing to meet this president where he is and put the criticism behind and take him up on what he said today and also challenge him to make good of what he said?

WATKINS: Absolutely. I think this is a chance for people to really come back to the table.

Two days ago I hung out with Cornell West and Father Michael Pfleger in Chicago. I live on the president's street. Minister Farrakhan lives two blocks away from the president. These are all people who have always shown tremendous love and sacrifice, real sacrifice for black men.

And so what I would love to see one day is for us to put the politics behind and understand that this is -- this can't be a gimmick. This can't just be a ploy for votes. This has to be something that is sustainable.

And we also have to realize that, if you want to learn how to grow flowers, you go find the gardeners, the people that are already doing the work, and you help them buy more seeds. So you find those individuals who will put their lives on the line, like say, a Father Michael Pfleger, and you help him get the money he needs to keep doing the grassroots work that he's been doing every day for 20 years.

LEMON: And you're -- and you're talking about Father Michael Pfleger, who is the pastor at St. Sabina Church on Chicago's South Side, and who has been, really, a soldier for civil rights in that city and fighting against violence, as well. WATKINS: And a friend -- and a friend and supporter of the president, by the way.

LEMON: Yes. And it's also very interesting when you mentioned all those people. You said, you know, where Farrakhan lived, where the president -- president's home is. Jesse Jackson is right around the corner. It's an amazing neighborhood just within a few blocks when you think of the number of people, affluent African-Americans who live in that particular neighborhood.

Mo -- Mo Ivory -- Hyde Park is what it is. Mo Ivory, I want to go to you, because you really have the ear of the people and one of the most successful radio shows in Atlanta and then also syndicated in other parts of the country. You will be listening -- I'm not sure if you were on the air at the time the president was giving his speech, but you will be listening, talking about this tomorrow on your radio show. What do you expect to hear from the people who will no doubt give you feedback tomorrow?

MO IVORY, SYNDICATED RADIO SHOW HOST: I think that they'll be happy that President Obama seemed to speak right to the people that needed to hear from him most. I mean, that was one of the most sincerest, sort of reaching out moments that I've seen in a long time, and I just loved it.

I felt so connected to what he was talking about. He told the story about a gentleman named Moe, who's from the Bronx -- I'm Mo from the Bronx, as well -- and is now working in the White House. And I feel very connected to that story.

And I know that there's a bunch of other -- you know, I'm female, but I know there's a bunch of African-American males that can relate to that story. But so many that need to believe that can happen to them.

So, you know, I want to talk to my listeners about whether or not they believe that they could stick in there like he talked about. And it's going to be hard work, but you have to go against the stereotypes and put the hard work in. And do we really believe that, if the resources are there and the plan is there, can the people really do the work that it takes to make things better? And that's what I really want to hear.

LEMON: All right. Everyone stand by. You set me up, really, for the next block, because we're going to hear from Moe. So stand by, guests.

Next, a warning the president gave today to the young men of color. Plus, the extraordinary story of a young man who went from the streets of the halls of -- from the streets of the Bronx to the halls of the White House. That inspiring interview coming up.


LEMON: This is a CNN special presentation, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER. Bernie Shaw is back with us, and Michael Skolnik, as well. Dr. Boyce Watkins, Mo Ivory, and Judge Glenda Hatchett now joins us from Atlanta.

Unusually personal words from President Obama today as he announced his new initiative to help young men and boys of color succeed. It is called "My Brother's Keeper."

President Obama noted he was one of the lucky ones. He grew up in a forgiving environment. He had encouragement, support. But he said every child deserves the same chances he had, and he warned these young men that they are ultimately responsible for their own success.


OBAMA: None of this is going to be easy. This is not a one-year proposition. It's not a two-year proposition. It's going to take time. We're dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds.

And addressing these issue will have to be a two-way bargain. Because no matter how much the community chips in, it's ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.

And that's why I want to close by speaking directly to the young men who are here today and all the boys and young men who are watching at home.

Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is, no excuses. And government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We've got to help you knock down some of the barriers you experience. That's what we're here for. But you've got responsibilities, too.

And I know you can meet the challenge -- and many of you already are -- if you make the effort. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society's lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.

It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up. Or settle into the stereotype. It's not going to happen overnight, but you're going to have to set goals, and you're going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you.


LEMON: Bernie, you're listening intently there. How do we now convince -- or the president, all of us collectively, convince these young men to step up, seize responsibility, that their lives are in their hands, ultimately? How do we do that?

SHAW: You say I was listening intently. I was listening intently because this president was paraphrasing my young life growing up in Chicago on the South Side.

And when I was 13, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite were my idols. I said, "I want to be just like him." How did I get from the South Side to a career of more than 40 years?

But one way you convince our young men, be they black, be they white, be they brown, is that what our guest in Atlanta said, the gardeners. You convince them that the gardeners indeed do care.

This president not only is commander in chief, but I think of him as also national morale officer for all Americans. There are people in the trenches right now -- coaches, teachers, professors, community leaders. This speech today will so energize them. That will radiate across this great land to convince these young people that the people in the trenches, the gardeners do care.

LEMON: Yes. And it did feel -- it did feel different this time. But I want to turn to you. Because you know, when many hear that, when the president is saying, "Hey, this is ultimately up to you," it's "Why is the president talking respectability politics and pull yourself up by your boot straps? That doesn't work. You forget -- when you do that, you forget about institutional and systematic racism."

SKOLNIK: Well, he didn't say pull your pants up.

LEMON: Well, pull yourself up -- but yes, in a way he is. When everyone gets in -- everyone gets into that pull your pants up, that is a metaphor for pull your attitude up.

SKOLNIK: Yes, but the president -- here's what the president did different, Don. The president didn't just say...

LEMON: And what is wrong with saying, "Pull your pants up," by the way?

SKOLNIK: Well, that's a different conversation, maybe for a different special. The president didn't just say...

LEMON: No, it's not. No, no, no, no, no, hold on. It's not a different conversation.

SKOLNIK: Because you can't...

LEMON: The president is saying to take a responsibility for yourself and for your actions.

SKOLNIK: But like he said...

LEMON: Go ahead.

SKOLNIK: But like he said, Don, Dr. King said it's not "either/or"; it's an "and."

LEMON: Exactly.

SKOLNIK: So what Obama did today, which most folks haven't done, is talk to young blacks, to young black men. It's not just pull yourself up; it's your responsibility. And I'm going to create programs. We're going to tackle third-grade reading levels. We're going to tackle juvenile justice reform. We're going to tackle school discipline. We're going to look at the systematic problems...

LEMON: Right.

SKOLNIK: ... that you have in your life, and we're going to help you tackle those, as well, while you also have to pull yourself up and have responsibility.

So the president said it's a combination of both. We are here -- as Bernie said, we are here as mentors, as teachers, as coaches, as professors to help you pull yourself up. It's not just you. It's a combination of both.

SHAW: And guess what?


SHAW: In the year 2025, the year 2045, the year '50, 2050, the problem will remain.

LEMON: Exactly.

SHAW: Hopefully, hopefully, the problem will remain but the intensity will have lessened.

LEMON: But hopefully it will have gotten better. Hopefully, people will understand and these young man, and we're looking at them in 2025 and 2045 or whatever....

SHAW: Who themselves will be fathers, by the way.

LEMON: Who themselves will be fathers. Hopefully, they will have gotten the message that the president is talking about.

Let's talk about too little too late. Some people have said a day late and a dollar short. A day late and a dollar short. This is very challenging, Judge Hatchet. You have heard the criticism. You heard Dr. Boyce Watkins voice some of that criticism, as well. What do you make of that?

GLENDA HATCHETT, JUDGE: Well, let me tell you. First of all, I am thrilled that the president did what he did. I felt the passion.

But Don, it really comes down to would you just rather criticize him for not doing anything? And so I'm not going to go down the lane of saying "too little too late." I am saying we're here now. Let's dig in." There's an anchor in the ground on this day that we collectively have got to move together.

But let me also say about this whole thing about responsibility, you know, Don, because you were in Atlanta, that for years I sat on the juvenile court and for years I saw young boys who were coming through that courtroom who needed to know that people believed in them.

And to have the president of the United States stand today and passionately say, "We are committed, and you have got to do your part," and so it's like we're cheering them on. We're cheering them on.

And I believe that our responsibility collectively is that we've got to guaranty safe passage from here to their future, because it's not just this generation of young boys and young men that we're investing in, but by doing so, we have a wonderful head start -- I started to say something else, but I remembered we're on the air -- a head start on their children's children's children's children, long after we're all gone. And I think that that's worth celebrating, and I think we have to get behind this president and all be on this team.

LEMON: OK. All right. Let me -- let me read some of this to you.


LEMON: In some cities, 80 percent of African-American men have a criminal record.


LEMON: One in three black boys born today will spend time in prison if this cycle continues.

HATCHETT: If -- and that is outrageous. That is absolutely outrageous. That is the prediction. That does not have to be their future.

And I think today marks a significant part in this nation's history, when we can say we're not going to have this happen and that we're going to reclaim our children.

Quickly, Don, I'll tell you, when I first went on the bench, there was an old gentleman in Westin (ph) one day, and he said, "I heard you were the new juvenile court judge."

And I said, "Yes, sir."

He said, "You know what's wrong, Judge? No one's calling these boys 'son anymore."

And I've never forgotten that, Don. You know, when I was a kid, you know, the guy would say, "Son, it's awfully late out here. Son, I heard you were on your way to college. I'm proud of you." And that's what we've got to do. We have got to call these young boys...

LEMON: Son. Son, I need you to be home when the street lights come on.


LEMON: Son, I need you to do your homework.


LEMON: Son, I need you to listen to your mom.

HATCHETT: You know, Don. You remember. Because they'd say -- or you don't need to be out here doing what you're doing. They may not have known your name, but they called you "son."


HATCHETT: I think that's what this is about.

LEMON: So what of that, then? Because I think what you're saying is that there are very few male role models in the home. We're talking about single parenthood here and lack of fathers. That's what we're talking about here. That's what the judge is talking about, Michael Skolnik.

SKOLNIK: Yes, and I think we have to go here to the sons and brothers. I think we have to look at these young men as our sons and brothers.

When we just look at Trayvon Martin and look at Jordan Davis as people, and not just as a number, and not just as a statistic. They're actually people with families and friends who lost their loved one. And we look at them as human beings. We still have 15 young people behind the president...

LEMON: I understand what you're saying, but when I spoke to the boys from BAM yesterday, from Becoming a Man in Chicago...


LEMON: ... no one had a male role model. And even the president said that. Or he said -- said that today. And when he met with them, he had never signed a Father Day's card, and they had never signed a Father's Day card. We cannot ignore that, that people need male role models. They need the fathers, and the president said that today.

SKOLNIK: Make that a challenge, then. That's an issue for us men to challenge each other. I'm a new parent. I have to challenge fellow young men to step up and be fathers for their parents [SIC]. And that's our job as men, not asking women to step up, asking men to step up.

LEMON: Absolutely.

Stand by, all of our guests. Next, the president today told the story of a young black man, who with the help of his mother, went from a rough-and-tumble neighborhood all the way to the White House. You're going to meet Moe Owens and hear his incredible story next.

Plus, is the, quote, "gangsta culture" -- I know you're going to want to weigh in on this -- is that what's causing the problem facing young men of color? We'll discuss coming up.


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to this CNN special presentation, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER.

Today when President Obama kicked off what is a very personal cause, helping young black and Latino men succeed, he spoke about a young man who went from the streets of The Bronx to the halls of the White House.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Moe was 4 years old, he moved with his mom, Chauvet, from South Carolina to the Bronx. And his mom didn't have a lot of money, and they lived in a tough neighborhood. Crime was high. A lot of young men ended up in jail or worse.

But she knew the importance of education. So she got Moe into the best elementary school that she could find. And every morning she put him on a bus. Every night, she welcomed him when he came home. She took the initiative. She eventually found a sponsorship program that allowed Moe to attend a good high school.

And while many of his friends got into trouble, some of it pretty serious, Moe just kept on getting on the bus and kept on working hard and reaching for something better. And he had some adults in his life that were willing to give him advice and help him along the way.

And he ended up going to college and he ended up serving his country in the Air Force. And today, Moe works in the White House, just two doors down from the Oval Office as the special assistant to my chief of staff.



LEMON: That deserves a round of applause. Earlier I spoke to that young man, Moe, and his mother, and I asked them about what it meant to be acknowledged by the President of the United States.


CHAUVET WELLS, MOTHER OF MAURICE EVANS: I'm so, so proud of him. I can't really describe how proud I am of him. And him acknowledging us like that, whoo.


WELLS: It was -- it was -- it was really, really a wonderful experience that I won't ever forget.

LEMON: What do you think about when you look at him?

What do you see when you look at that guy?

WELLS: A strong, positive black role model.


WELLS: Yes. Because I told him earlier today that he needs to start speaking to his peers more, to young men more. You know, I know he does it through the White House, but to do it on his own, to let people know, like the president said, if Moe can do it, anybody can. LEMON: Tell us about, Moe, your experience. You grew up and the president said you lived in The Bronx. It's a tough neighborhood.

Did you have a male role model? Was your dad involved?


LEMON: He wasn't around.

EVANS: Yes, I didn't know my dad until I was about 19.

LEMON: OK. So then you got on that bus every day.

What was your experience like? Why did you do it?

EVANS: It was a choice my mother made to actually take me from an environment she knew that I possible would not have the best chances at succeeding in, which is my immediate neighborhood, because most of the schools are local schools and you go right to the immediate school.

So she got -- found out programs that actually bussed me to a school. Actually I went to a school that was in Little Italy, not necessarily Little Italy, but Pelham Bay, which is a very predominantly Italian neighborhood.

So my elementary school was, I was maybe one of five black kids in the whole school. It was another neighborhood; it wasn't the best neighborhood. But it was another neighborhood. So it showed me that if I can succeed in another neighborhood, in another environment, I can succeed anywhere.

So that's one thing that really --


LEMON: What was your -- what was your -- what was environment that you lived in like, that you had to get on the bus and go away to school?

EVANS: Immediate best friends were drug dealers. A lot of -- like throughout my years of growing up in The Bronx, I lost over 16 friends to gun violence and drugs and jail.

It was just a -- it was the norm for everything not to be conducive to somebody achieving higher goals than what's immediately around them, which is not -- it's just an urban nightmare, I guess you could call it, of a society that -- it's a society of a circle that creates young boys to commit crime and lead lives of drugs, because that's the only way they'll succeed, is because to be the biggest drug dealer is your way to have money in your pocket or to be that person on the neighborhood that everybody respects.

So I had to leave that environment to go somewhere else and realize that, OK, if I become a lawyer, people respect lawyers, not just drug dealers. People respect people who do more than just play basketball. I played basketball my whole life, but I knew that education would take me further than basketball if I didn't succeed in basketball.


LEMON: What made you different?

What was different for you, that that environment sucked some of those people in, they became drug dealers, they dropped out of school, they may have gotten involved with the criminal justice system, what was different about you?

EVANS: The biggest difference is my mother believing in me. I would say another difference is what the president is trying to do with this initiative, My Brother's Keeper, is that those critical moments, I've seen those critical moments happen in my best friend's life where the day he decided to sell drugs.

Or a buddy of mine, he was going to -- he had a scholarship to play basketball and his idea of saving up for college was to sell drugs. So he had money when he got to college.

Long story short, he had an altercation with somebody that owed him money and one thing led to another; he shot the guy in the stomach and he's incarcerated for seven years. So those critical moments when he's about to approach college, no one was there to mold him and guide him in the way that would take him to higher and higher heights.

LEMON: So you got past the -- your sellout thing; you're trying to be white, did you hear any of that stuff?

EVANS: Oh, yes; you're trying to be white, whatever is -- when I had aspirations of college, it was like if I named that -- because I wanted to go to Clemson, they called me Clemson all the time. I would say, well, Clemson, it was more of a -- not necessarily a carousing about type of situation. But it was like they saw that what they were -- would say to me as far as like trying to deter me -- I'm not saying my immediate friends were trying to deter me. It's just that when that arose, I would always -- I would also say inspirational things to them like, well, just come to Clemson with me.

Let's just figure out how to get there together.

LEMON: So how did you get to the White House?

EVANS: I got to the White House via the military actually. So I enlisted into the Air Force in 2003. First assignment was to -- was to Japan. I was in Japan for four years. And I was trying to stay overseas at the time. And when that assignment didn't work out, I had to figure out where I wanted to go.

And a special duty that the Air Force has was to the White House. And it's the White House Communication Agency. I applied, did an interview while sitting in -- like sitting in Iraq, actually, over the phone. Got the nod, saying I could come to the White House. That following year I came to the White House and I've been here ever since.


LEMON: You would not be denied, right?

EVANS: I would not be denied.

LEMON: You were persistent.

EVANS: I was very persistent.

LEMON: And you were working communications, then, behind the scenes.

EVANS: Behind the --

LEMON: How did you become the assistant to the chief of staff?

EVANS: That role is one I asked -- when I also did another interview with the Situation Room. So I interviewed for the Situation Room; was placed in the Situation Room as a communicator. I was there for three years.

And then your job in the Situation Room as a communicator is to support the president and vice president, national security adviser and the deputy national security adviser securely on the road. And I did that a lot for Mr. Donilon at the time, who was NSA and Mr. McDonough. Mr. McDonough is now chief of staff, then was the deputy national security adviser.

LEMON: Do you realize what your life is like?

Do you realize what -- who you are?

EVANS: I'm still living the in -- living the dream, so living the American dream. And I know what I have to do every day and that is support the president and immediately support the chief of staff and I try to do that.

LEMON: What did today mean to you, that this president did what he said, him acknowledging you and your mom and making an initiative for young men of color across the country, what did that mean to you?

EVANS: It definitely sings praises to my mother and the way she raised me and what she wanted out of my life. So that's foremost. I can only thank the blessings for that, God for that.

And it means to me that the president cares. He's invested in people like me and people like him. And the promise and the challenge that he's putting in the world or immediately in the United States to challenge mentors and fathers and challenge that young male to do more than what's expected of them, to change that expectation, is the biggest thing that I think is going to make this initiative work.

And the president put that on the table.

LEMON: Have you seen him this emotional? EVANS: The president? This is definitely a different perspective that I have seen a president project to the world is he cares about someone that's like him.

And it's not all about him; it's about young boys and young men of color, but also he wants that to -- I know he wants that relationship to strengthen other relationships when it goes -- when that young man becomes a better man, he also is a -- he's also a better father, a better husband and so on and so on.

And that cyclic -- that environment breeds success, if one thing empowers the other.

LEMON: What do you want to be when you grow up?


EVANS: I want to be a young man that continues to make my mother proud.

WELLS: And he does, every day, more often than I expect.


LEMON: Remarkable young man, remarkable family.

Up next, what role does the so-called gangster culture play, if any, on young black men?




LEMON: Welcome back to a CNN special presentation, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER.

After President Obama announced his new initiative for young men of color today, his senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, appeared on FOX News with Bill O'Reilly. And as you might expect, the two of them clashed over how to fix the problems facing these young men. And according to O'Reilly, the problem is what he called gangstas.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: You have to attack the fundamental disease if you want to cure it. Now I submit to you that you're going to have to get people like Jay Z, like Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers, to knock it off. That's number one.


O'REILLY: Knock it off.

JARRETT: -- what these boys need is -- they need positive role models, which you said.

O'REILLY: Listen to me. Listen to me. You got to get where they live, all right? They had idolized these guys with the hats on backwards and the -- and the terrible rock -- rap lyrics and the -- and the drug and all of that. You got to get these guys.

And I think President Obama can do it.


LEMON: All right.

Back with me now again, Michael Skolnik and Bernie Shaw.

Michael, does Bill O'Reilly have any idea what he's talking about?

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Jay Z and Kanye West are gangsters? I mean, to respond to that --


LEMON: But he's --

SKOLNIK: -- speech is how stupid --

LEMON: -- he's talking about -- but you have to understand what he's talking about. He's talking about a culture that he believes they perpetuate, a song that's called "N-Words in Paris" and on and on and on. That's what he's talking about, and glorifying --

SKOLNIK: Yes, but it's so -- but it's like Michael Dunn calling Jordan Dunn (sic) a gangster and a thug when three, four black kids --

LEMON: Jordan Davis.

SKOLNIK: -- Jordan Davis -- excuse me -- a thug because four black kids are in a car listening to rap music.

The fact that this perpetuation of young black men, whether you're famous or not famous, is you're a thug or you're a gangster, because what, because you listen to rap music?

Rap music is a reflection of our society. What I liked about President Obama today, is that he didn't blame thug culture or rap music for our problems. He looked at the systemic problems.

Thug culture didn't create --

LEMON: But he did -- but the president did say that they had negative reinforcements and take that for what it will -- it could be a number of things that he's --

SKOLNIK: Certainly. But thug culture did not create low third-grade reading levels, thug culture did not create kids who can't eat in school. Thug culture did not create kids who can't have a --

LEMON: But does that help -- does it help those people? Does it help --

SKOLNIK: It's a reflection.

LEMON: -- with that?

SKOLNIK: It's a reflection. The mirror doesn't help anything. It's a reflection.

LEMON: Bernie Shaw?

BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN NEWS ANCHOR: It's a reflection of culture. O'Reilly is uncomfortable with this culture; that's understandable. He did not come from this culture.

That culture has some validities, if you will. I'm thinking about way back before my generation, my time, people condemned people wearing zoot suits. We used to be condemned for having afros.

LEMON: Elvis' hips.

SHAW: Bell bottom trousers and what have you, slicked back hair.

You know, unless and until all Americans in this great country realize that this is a national problem, not a black problem, not a brown problem, that this problem involves and ensnares Native Americans, Asian Americans, unless and until we realize this is a national problem awaiting critical attention, a national problem that will go on for generations until we have that realization and not cherry-pick and not denounce one element within the subculture --

LEMON: He --

SHAW: -- as despicable.

LEMON: He also challenged the president and the first lady to speak out against having sex, or what he said, bringing lives into the world that don't have resources, that in his -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- that was the worst thing you can do, is bring another life in the world when you don't have the resources to take care of that life.

SHAW: Well, how long has this been going on among all groups in this country? I mean, come on.

SKOLNIK: I mean --

LEMON: Wake up, O'Reilly. Wake up.

SKOLNIK: -- as a white person, if I can, it's highly offensive, incredibly offensive, not just to black people but also to white people, to categorize one group as despicable or negative or --

LEMON: Even if you look at the numbers from that and it shows --

SKOLNIK: -- there are more white people on welfare than black people on welfare. There are more white people on food stamps in this country than black people on food stamps in this country. We're not attacking them for being lazy. We're not attacking -- that conversation is old. We're off that conversation. That conversation is 15 years ago.

We're on to a new 21st century America. This president has put forward to say that we're going to take care of the most vulnerable. If young people of color are the most vulnerable, as a white American, we need them to be successful for this country to prosper. Period.

SHAW: If you succeed, we all succeed.

SKOLNIK: That's right.

LEMON: Simple as that.

SHAW: It's as simple as that.

LEMON: I think it's interesting that we've had -- when you -- when you hear -- when you see what's happened in Arizona and you see many other places that we are moving into a place in this country where people no longer accept bigotry and you can't use an excuse. There have become fewer and fewer excuses for bigotry and for people who are out of touch with -- where -- the way the world is going.

Do you agree or disagree?

SKOLNIK: I think, look, for the governor of Arizona last night to have to veto a bill that maybe she wanted to pass because the people said we're not going to accept this, is a step in the right direction.

LEMON: You were talking about being out of touch, and I thought that I would just bring that up.

I have to run, though, Bernie. You understand that.

So listen, thanks, Bernie Shaw; thanks, Michael Skolnick. I appreciate it.

And to all my guests, next, why today the president became the black president.



LEMON: He finally said it. Finally. That was a collective sigh today from many in the East Room at the White House and beyond, all across America. President Obama became the black president today. And not in the sense that he is the president just for black Americans, but as a president who happens to be black, he finally had the courage to step up and meet his responsibility to the people who are most like him, the people who need his help the most, young men of color.

Hear me out here. There was a time when the auto industry needed him most, and that didn't make him just the president just for auto workers. There was a time the financial industry needed him most, and that didn't just make him the president just for Wall Street.

Well, today, President Obama realized that, right now, in this time of need, being the black president isn't a bad thing. He committed today to helping the people he could help the most.

But in the end, young men of color just might end up helping him more than he helped them, because they might just end up catapulting him further into his destiny by becoming his lasting legacy.

I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us. CNN Films' "AND THE OSCAR GOES TO..." is next.