OAKLAND, California – Former President Barack Obama sat on a stage next to 23 young men of color, looked toward the audience and said solemnly, “Trayvon [Martin] could have been my son.”
Obama spoke those words Tuesday afternoon as part of a town hall discussion at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center in the first national meeting of the Obama Foundation program MBK Rising! Obama and Golden State Warriors all-star Stephen Curry participated in the event, discussing the importance of mentoring, being a role model and their personal influences before taking questions from the young men on stage.
My Brother’s Keeper was an initiative started by the Obama Foundation following the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Martin was a 17-year-old African-American fatally shot on Feb. 5, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Martin’s death led to national protests over racial profiling.
“Every single day there were young men of color who were being shot and killed … Every single day there were young men who were dropping out of school. Every single day there were men who were more likely to go to prison than college,” Obama said. “The requirement was for society to wake up and find ways where we can come together and say to all of our young people, but particularly young men of color who, according to a whole lot of educators, were having a more difficult time in society for a whole range of historical reasons, we have to be able say to them that, ‘You matter, we care about you, we believe in you and we’re going to make sure you have the opportunity and the chances to move forward just like everybody else.’ And through out of that, we decided to start My Brother’s Keeper.”
The goal of MBK Rising! is to “bring opportunity for youth and community leaders to connect, learn, and share.” The MBK Alliance, now part of the Obama Foundation, also is focused on encouraging mentorship and reducing youth violence for young men of color.
Obama and Curry also talked about fatherly influence — or the lack thereof. The questions from the young men on stage were about the large incarceration of people of color, receiving and giving support to women, police issues, the influence of music, high school discipline, masculinity and expectations for greatness and respect.
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- A conversation with the President
“From the moment I was elected president I was constantly thinking about how we make sure that everyone in this country has an opportunity and every child is valued,” Obama said. “This is the greatest country on Earth. And there are still people who are able to rise despite disadvantages. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of late bloomers who are still left behind and a lot of young people who sadly don’t have the resources, don’t have the support, don’t have the attention that other humans have.”
Curry once wore a pair of customized My Brother’s Keeper Under Armor Curry 4 sneakers during a road game against the Washington Wizards for charity. The hand-painted and autographed shoes were auctioned off for $28,000, according to EBONY.com. Curry also spoke about the importance of mentoring and said he and his Warriors teammates believe it is necessary to make an impact in the Bay Area and in their hometowns.
“How I carry myself, how I speak, what I am educated on, my willingness to try to meet people where they are, can make a huge difference whether it is five seconds, 10 minutes, multiple run-ins. We all have the platform and the responsibility to shape somebody’s perspective,” Curry said. “That one moment can be a difference-maker for a lifetime. I can speak for my teammates and a lot of people in this league that we have a social responsibility to take a stand for things that we believe in and look out for the next generation.”
Curry’s conversation with Obama came two days after the two-time NBA MVP played in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte. Curry and Obama, a huge basketball fan, have built a friendship that has led them to playing golf together several times and have dinner in San Francisco on Saturday night. Curry and the Warriors also celebrated their 2015 NBA championship with Obama in the White House but didn’t celebrate 2017 and 2018 titles with President Donald J. Trump.
The crowd booed when Obama mentioned a high school initiative changed by Trump administration. Obama responded by saying, “Don’t boo. What do I always say?”
The crowd responded, “Don’t boo. Vote.”
The friendship between Obama and Curry was easily visible as they opened their session in lighthearted fashion and had some fun along the way while talking about serious subjects.
Obama introduced himself as “Michelle’s husband” and Curry as “Ayesha’s husband.” Obama joked that he “lost his job” as president and is now retired and focusing on the Obama Foundation. Obama also said he helped Curry become the greatest shooter in NBA history, but “no one wanted to see my jump shot.” They also debated about who was better rapper: Drake or Kendrick Lamar.
“Even a Bulls fan has to acknowledge that he has been fun to watch with the Warriors,” Obama said of Curry. “He’s the greatest shooter of all time because I gave him some tips about five seasons ago.”
Curry would later get a laugh from joking about Obama’s age. But Obama got the loudest roar after joking about Curry’s past injury woes.
“Why don’t we tell the kids about some of the struggles with your ankles?” Obama said.
Before the Obama-Curry conversation, Grammy award-winning singer John Legend led a discussion with Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Rev. Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant; and Rep. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. All three mothers lost their sons to gun violence. McBath said all three women are fighting against injustice to help the nation. Fulton added that the three women have to be “the voice for the voiceless.”
“We continue to champion and fight with every breath of our being because we know it matters,” McBath said.
Said Fulton: “It’s not about Trayvon anymore. It is about everyone is in here.”
The event concludes on Wednesday with panel discussions that includes former NFL receiver Victor Cruz, Black Panther filmmaker and Oakland native Ryan Coogler, actor/producer Michael B. Jordan, actress and activist MJ Rodriguez and Queer Eye star Karamo Brown.