Obama announces 'My Brother's Keeper'
(CNN) -- In a moving and heartfelt message Thursday, President Barack Obama challenged young minority men to make good choices.
"Part of our message in this initiative is 'no excuses'. Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities, we have the responsibility to provide you the tools you need," he said at a White House event.
"We need to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience," he continued. "That's what we are here for but you have responsibilities too."
The message was part of his new initiative called "My Brother's Keeper," where leading foundations and businesses will donate at least $200 million over five years towards programs aimed at minority youth of color.
"This is as important as any issue that I work on. It's an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President because if America stands for anything, it stands for the opportunity for everybody -- the notion of no matter who you are or where you came from of the circumstances under which you were born -- if you work hard, if you take responsibility then you can make it in this country," he said.
A White House official said Obama improvised a good portion of his remarks and was more emotional than many planners of the event anticipated.
Those who participated in a White House meeting Thursday about the new program included NBA legend Magic Johnson, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
James Adams, 19, was also at the White House Thursday.
"Every morning when I was in school I'd put on my vest, coat and go to school," he told CNN.
It wasn't a fancy, fashionable vest. It was bullet proof, and he said it was a part of his daily morning routine.
"It's hard. Sometimes I might take a different route home depending on time of day when I know gang-bangers are outside" he said.
It is the rough-and-tumble existence for many young black men like Adams all over the country where the street life of crime, violence and dropping out of school has become a reality.
And it is the polar opposite of the man that is the leader of the free world and resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The administration says this initiative is a lifelong goal for Obama, even after he leaves office.
"What I explained to them was I had issues too when I was their age," Obama said last year. "I just had an environment that was a little more forgiving, so when I screwed up, the consequences weren't as high as when kids on the South Side screw up."
In his announcement Thursday, Obama also talked about marijuana. He said he "got high" when he was younger - an admission he's referenced multiple times since taking office and he describes in his memoir "Dreams of My Father."
"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, not always thinking about the harm that it would do," he told a crowd at the White House.
Obama said in an interview with The New Yorker that, while he still viewed pot smoking negatively, the drug wasn't the social ill that it's been viewed as in the past, and that he didn't see marijuana as any more dangerous than alcohol.
The President's comments sparked headlines and continued calls by activists to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance, but the White House said the administration does not plan to change their policy on marijuana laws.
CNN's Ashley Killough and Rachael Shackelford contributed to this report.