- Administration will launch a "My Brother's Keeper" community challenge this week
- Obama gives personal nod to Michael Brown's family
- Obama says country is now "awakened" to a reality that a "gulf of mistrust" exists
In February, President Barack Obama launched an initiative to provide educational and community support for African-American boys and young men, an issue he said "goes to the very heart of why I ran for president."
But when Obama first unveiled the "My Brother's Keeper" program six months ago, he could not have anticipated that the national conversation this summer would explode into a debate about race relations.
In light of the death of Michael Brown -- the unarmed African-American teen who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August -- Obama said that the country is now "awakened" to a reality that a "gulf of mistrust" exists between African-Americans and law enforcement officials in communities throughout the country.
"We still have to close the opportunity gaps, and we have to close the justice gap -- how justice is applied, but also what is perceived, how it is experienced," Obama said at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event in Washington on Saturday. "That's what we saw in Ferguson this summer when Michael Brown was killed and the community was divided."
"Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel by fear and resentment and hopelessness," he continued.
To Brown's family members, who were in the audience at the event, Obama gave a personal nod.
"I know that nothing anybody can say can ease the grief of losing a child too soon."
As a result of the increasingly evident "gulf of mistrust," Obama said, his administration will launch a "My Brother's Keeper" community challenge this week, in which it will ask every community in the country to publicly commit to implementing strategies to ensure that all young people can succeed.
"It's a challenge to local leaders to follow the evidence and to use the resources to see what works on our kids," the President said. "We need to help our communities, our law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track."
The operation was originally launched with the plan to have leading foundations and businesses donate at least $200 million over five years toward mentoring programs aimed at boys and young men of color.
Obama also thanked Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his retirement last week, for his continued effort to improve race relations and advance civil rights.
"Throughout his long career in public service, Eric has built a powerful legacy of making sure that equal justice under the law actually means something," Obama said. "He's been a great friend of mine. He's been a great servant of the American people. We will miss him badly."
Obama's remarks came at the end of a four-day annual legislative conference sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a nonprofit institute that supports the policy positions of the Congressional Black Caucus.