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Obama Gets Personal About New Initiative; A CNN Hero; Predicting Oscar Winners.

Aired February 28, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So many people discussing an event at the White House which is really like something we have never seen before. Powerful, personal reflections and revelations from President Obama as he makes a commitment to help young black and Latino men succeed. The president spoke openly about his feelings and the bad choices he made at a young man growing up without a present father.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could see myself in these young men. I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving.

When I was their age, I was a lot like them. I didn't have a dad in the house. 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.

Groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions. Groups have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations.

And the worst part is, we have become numb to these statistics. We're not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is.


OBAMA: And I -- And I believe the continuing struggles of boys and young men are falling by the wayside, dropping out, involved in negative behavior. We need to change the statistics, not just for the sake of the young men and boys but for the sake of America's future. And that's why in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, with all the emotions and controversy, I spoke about the need to bolster and reinforce our young men.


BERMAN: The new initiative is called, My Brother's Keeper. It will identify and build on programs helping young men of color all across the country.

CNN commentator, L.Z. Granderson, was in the room, in the East Room of the White House, listening to the president speak to all those young men. L.Z. joins us from Chicago.

L.Z., people are talking about how revealing and how personal this was, how the president opened up about his own youth and own racial identity. What he really doesn't do that often, which a lot of people think is ironic as the first black president. You say he connected. The fact that he connected will make a difference.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. Part of the reason why or at least I believe part of the reason why the president has been so hesitant to be this assertive in regard to racial issues is because he was the first black president. When you are the first black president, what you don't want to be perceived as is the president of only black people but the president of the entire country. So I believe he is hesitant to dive into this issue the way he has. He doesn't have that burden to prove himself as a president for all. But what he does have the burden to do is address the needs of a nation. And what he talked about yesterday was the fact that we have men of color, young men of color falling behind, is not an issue you that only affects minority communities but the entire nation, both economically and morally. He feels comfortable now in his own skin, asserting himself in this racial conversation, because it does have a broader reach.

BERMAN: If you read the accounts of the first term and the re- election, there is a sense he didn't do more during the first term on these issues, and one of the reasons now why he is addressing it.

L.Z., one of the things he said that got a lot of attention, he said out loud to that room of young men, he said, I got high. Now, he has talked about the fact that he smoked pot a lot. We all knew that. To say it in the White House in that prominent setting, people are asking, does that send the wrong message?

GRANDERSON: I don't know who these people are.


Quite honestly. I was in the room. I saw those young men. I talked to those young men afterwards. All he did was remind them that he, too, knows what it is like to go through difficult times and to make bad choices. I look back at the White House and I think the president before him was arrested for a DUI at 30, a youthful discretion. The president before that said he smoked pot but didn't inhale, whatever the heck that's supposed to mean. It is not as if the conversation of drug use in our presidents is brand new. I think the fact that he owned to it and incorporated that in the overall conversation of how to pull yourself out of negative behavior was an important step in making sure that we all knew that he was wholly invested in this and not just giving it lip service.

BERMAN: Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida, not talking about this event, but a couple of weeks ago was talking about whether he smoked marijuana. He wouldn't say. He said, if I tell you I haven't, you wouldn't believe me. If I tell you I did, kids will look up to me and say, I can smoke marijuana, because, look at how he made it. That's the point sometimes you hear from the other side. GRANDERSON: That's a cowardly approach in my opinion. Own up to it. Own up to your mistakes. Own up to the indiscretions you have had. That makes you more human. No one wants a perfect politician. We know that doesn't exist. I would much rather have a politician as being forthright and honest, not one already being calculative and trying to appear as if they are perfect. It is just a fallacy.

BERMAN: Let's talk about something a lot of people noticed, including our very own Don Lemon. The president put out a call for responsibility to the kids in that room. These are programs designed to help young black and Latino young men but he told them they have to help themselves. L.Z., what do you think of that message?

GRANDERSON: Yes. He absolutely did. In the column I wrote, I talked about the influences that was important in my life growing up culturally, the films of Spike Lee, the hip-hop music of Public Enemy and some other groups. All of those artists talked about self- empowerment and self-responsibility, personal responsibility. We have gotten away from that. That's part of the reason why people feel as if a lot of the reasons why African-American men or Latino men are facing the problems they do, is because that message of personal responsibility is not being reinforced in a pop cultural sense. It is very important that the president, as well as all of us -- we are all role models within the society -- talk about the importance of personal responsibility. There will be obstacles. Everyone faces obstacles. Just as those poor kids in urban America -- there are poor kids in rural America as well. We all have problems. Taking personal responsibility to get past those problems is the most important step any of us can take. And I was very happy to see the president reinforce that message.

BERMAN: It is an important discussion to be having and the White House event started that discuss or kept it going in a louder way. It is probably a good thing for everyone.

L.Z. Granderson, great to have you here. Your column on this is terrific as well. Appreciate you being here.

GRANDERSON: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: 38 minutes past the hour right now. Families struggling to get back on their feet are happy to have a roof over their heads. Sometimes that roof is all they have. One man in Washington noticed children sleeping on piles of blankets and families having dinner on the floor. So he decided to make a change. Mark Burgle is today's "CNN Hero."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are emotional right now. I'm excited. I'm so glad things are starting to turn around. It's been five years. Me and my kids had nowhere to go. We just had to go from place to place. We slept in abandoned cars. We moved in here with nothing. I see my children on the floor going to bed, it hurts me.

OK. High. MARK BURGLE, CNN HERO: There is no stability and no dignity when you live in apartments that have nothing in them.

So how this works, OK, anything it is that you want here, you put your sticker on and that's what you guys will take home.


BURGLE: Once we get the homes furnished, they have a chance to take a breath and start to create a different life.

We pick up furniture and other home goods from people that have more than they need and we distribute them free of charge to people who have nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like this table. As a family, we can sit down and we can just eat. Got something to sit on, something to lay on.

Now, we have it back.

Now, my kids can pursue their dreams.

BURGLE: This is a good start, right?


BURGLE: I help people to find the hope that was missing from their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love you. Good night.

BURGLE: And the opportunity they did not know was before them.


BERMAN: It is a good way to start. Such an important message.

Every week, we'll be honoring a new "CNN Hero." Go to and tell us about them.

Ahead AT THIS HOUR, disorder on the court. This is what happened when jubilant fans rushed on to the hardwood with some down and defeated players. This was a mess that hasn't ever been allowed to happen.


BERMAN: It is time for our daily "Hot Flash," the bi-coastal version. We are looking at some of stories that made us go "wow."

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to start out in the west with southern cooking goddess and princess of butter, Paula Dean, on the road to redemption. On the cover of "People" magazine, trying to rebuild her empire and get her reputation back on track after she admitted she used racial slurs in the past. Dean telling the magazine, quote, "I feel like embattled, where disgrace will always follow my name, it's like that black football player who recently came out."

Some people find her choice of words kind of baffling. It is tough if you are in the midst of an image makeover to be making those statements, Paula. John, don't you think some people are hanging on every word trying to pounce on anything she says.

BERMAN: They are. In a way, what she was saying is Michael Sam has said he doesn't want to be known as a gay football player. He just wants to be known as a football player. She doesn't want to be known as Paula Dean, who used racist language, but just as Paula Dean. I understand where she's coming from. If that's the case, she needs to be more careful I think when she is explaining herself and her motivation.

Something else that caught my eye was a game on the hardwood between New Mexico State and Utah Valley State. This game went into overtime. The first place in the WAAC was on the line. Mayhem ensues and fans rush on to the court there. You can see it. They get involved in the brawl here. It is an ugly, ugly, ugly thing to see.

It raises the question that fans are asked a lot of times, which is, should they be that close to the court. Should you be allowed to storm the court after a big game or rush on to the field and pull down the goalpost? It is such a wonderful tradition but does it put the players at risk or the fans at risk?

PEREIRA: Look, I think we are a little fan happy when we need to be a little more common sense happy. I am with you. I'm a big fan of sports and exuberance. They crossed the line there. Somebody could have gotten physically hurt.

Hey, speaking of physical exertion, have you seen this hot new video work out. Not Richard Simmons. You are not sweating to the oldies. Check out what's going on in the White House. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden making this fantastic work-out video. It is all part of the Let's Move fitness campaign the first lady is promoting. They are jogging to the football film. They stretch, drink some water, and then they go back to running the country. I love this. I love that they did it in suit and tie. I didn't know that Joe was so fit.

BERMAN: I've watched this a few times. Every time I watch it, I keep thinking that it is a little hard on Joe Biden. The guy is 71 and he is having a hard time keeping up with the president.

PEREIRA: He kept up.

BERMAN: I know but he looks like it got to him a little bit. I keep on wondering if the secretary of agriculture succeeded to be a dedicated slacker on a recliner. It was very funny.

Tell us what you think about our "Hot Flash," Paula Deen rushing the court, the White House work-out video. Tweet us, @this hour.

PEREIRA: Also ahead, picking the winners at this year's Oscars is a tough call. Not really any frontrunners. We are going to try and make some predictions. I brought in some expert help to assist you in making your picks.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to Hollywood. And it's as though the weather god's heard our cue that we were coming back live because of the rain, another band of rain coming through. Let's talk Oscar. That's why we're here in Hollywood today. A big odds-maker in Las Vegas likes Matthew McConaughey for best actor, and "12 Years a Slave" as best picture at the Academy Awards this Sunday. There doesn't seem to be a runaway favorite to win. That could mean high drama.

I brought in a friend who knows a whole lot. Tom O'Neill has written about entertainment awards, editor of

Really good to see you.

It's the Super Bowl of show biz. Are there clear standouts, clear winners in some of these races?

TOM O'NEILL, EDITOR, GOLDDERBY.COM: We think so. But we don't know so. Because at Gold Derby, we have 30 experts, 22 say "Slave" will win best picture, eight say "Gravity" and I've heard more votes for "American Hustle."

PEREIRA: So a three-way race.

O'NEILL: A three-way race.

PEREIRA: In terms of upset looking forward, are there some you think seem to be a shoo-in on some of these races and there could be a sleeper? Like last year.

O'NEILL: Yeah, Christophe Waltz came through, and I nailed that, by the way. I want you to know, I take full bragging rights.


And this year you've got to go out on one limb. My pick is Leonardo DiCaprio for best actor.

PEREIRA: Is it finally his year?

O'NEILL: I hope. So he's lost three times. Two nominations for Sunday. But we have not seen him compete against Matthew McConaughey directly, so we don't know his strength. The biggest movie star in the world.

PEREIRA: Let's talk about both. Big transformation for the 22 years of Matthew McConaughey's career starting out in "Dazed and Confused" and now showing some terrific range.

O'NEILL: He is. We have seen him go from surfer dude to serious actor.

PEREIRA: Comedy in the midst somewhere, too.

O'NEILL: And they love that.

PEREIRA: And Leonardo DiCaprio, he has a knack of picking strong projects.

O'NEILL: Right. And brought this to the screen with Martin Scorsese.

PEREIRA: Other things to look at. I think one of the tougher categories is the supporting actor and actress.

O'NEILL: Give me your prediction first.

PEREIRA: Supporting actress?


PEREIRA: I've got to say, it's hard to know. I know --


PEREIRA: I think it's going to be Lupita. I don't think that for best picture, it's going to be "12 Years a Slave." I think it's going to be "Gravity.

O'NEILL: Really?

We have a disagreement here.


I think it's "12 Years" for best picture. And I think Lupita goes along for the ride and normally best picture wins an acknowledging award.

PEREIRA: In terms of year-to-year, this has felt like a good Oscar year. What do you think? You have covered this for many years.

O'NEILL: It is. "Gravity" one of the most popular movies of the year. So we have the block busters and the "12 Years a Slave." This year, I love these movies.

PEREIRA: Do you remember a year it's been quite as damp on the red carpet?


As a man with the squeegee walks behind you.

O'NEILL: Michaela, for 22 years, this is like the third rain I've seen. This is the worst.

PEREIRA: In here, just a final thought for you guys. There are people here working around the clock to get this -- this carpet dry. There's 600 feet of the red carpet where the stars will walk. They have plastic over it, gutters trying to drain the water away.

They're working hard here, John, to keep it dry. Right now there might be a losing proposition.

Tom O'Neill, of, always a pleasure. I'm watching Sunday and will hold you to your words.


O'NEILL: Thanks.

PEREIRA: OK, back to you in a dry studio in the east.

BERMAN: What a great conversation. I'm kind of jealous. But I think all the stars have assistants to keep their feet dry in case they get wet. It will be OK.

Michaela, great to see you out there.

All right. As we end, no "Cable Outrage" today. No. Instead, we're filled with warm feelings and hope. For whom you ask? By Justin Bieber, of course. It's his birthday tomorrow and we wanted to send a special love-gram. Justin Bieber, we hope you have a wonderful birthday celebration tomorrow. We don't know exactly what you plan to do for your birthday. But we do have some ideas for things you might want to avoid. For instance, we wouldn't get together with friends and egg a neighbor's house. Not this birthday. If you're going to hang out with your bodyguards, no wrestling or any kind of physical contact with fans or anything. That is never a good party. And as for party transportation, you might want to get a ride. And if you were planning a video, try this kind. Not this kind. Yeah. Not the kind of video you want on your birthday. That's why we wish you a happy birthday, Justin Bieber, all the best.

Thanks for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after the break.