"I could not, with any integrity, participate in such a sham that would only serve to legitimize the false narrative that the government is working to end police brutality and the institutional racism that fuels it," wrote Aislinn Pulley
, a leader of Black Lives Matter Chicago who the White House said on Wednesday would be at the meeting.
Other attendees included Deshaunya Ware, a student leader of the University of Missouri protest group Concerned Student 1950; Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network; NAACP President Cornell Brooks; and National Urban League leader Marc Morial.
In an op-ed on Truthout, Pulley said she "respectfully declined" the White House's invitation to attend the panel, which was organized as part of the administration's marking of Black History Month.
"I was under the impression that a meeting was being organized to facilitate a genuine exchange on the matters facing millions of Black and Brown people in the United States. Instead, what was arranged was basically a photo opportunity and a 90-second sound bite for the president," Pulley wrote.
Obama didn't address the absence when he spoke to reporters after the meeting, instead saying he was "encouraged by the degree of focus and seriousness and constructiveness that exists not only with existing civil rights organizations but with this new generation."
"They are some serious young people. I told them they are much better organizers than I was when I was their age. I am confident they will take America to new heights," he said.
Later Thursday, a senior administration official said Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and members of the Obama administration had a "productive dialogue with civil rights leaders about a range of important issues like the criminal justice system, education, the economy and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."
"We will continue to engage with the many organizations and individuals who chose to participate in this meeting in ongoing discussions about how to strengthen our communities and move our country forward," the official said.
Speaking in the White House driveway after meeting with Obama, Sharpton said the group discussed the ongoing fight over naming a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He said any GOP-led effort in the Senate to scuttle a presidential Supreme Court nominee would reflect a "civil rights violation."
"To act as if the President is anything less than the President of the United States until January 20, 2017. He cannot be minimized, marginalized or disregarded without doing the same to the American people," Sharpton said.
Obama has defended the groups that sprung from high-profile incidents of police killings of unarmed black men. He said in October those communities' grievances must be taken seriously, and pushed back on the notion that organizations like Black Lives Matter are anti-police.
"I think everybody understands all lives matter. I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' was not because they were suggesting nobody else's lives matter," Obama said at an event in October.
"Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that's happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities ... and that is a legitimate issue that we've got to address," he said.