One year after he launched a nationwide mentoring program to help struggling young men of color, President Barack Obama sat down to interview one of those young men.
Eighteen-year-old Noah McQueen sat down with Obama at the White House to record an interview published Thursday by StoryCorps, a public broadcasting initiative that collects oral histories. Obama will also meet Friday at the White House with other mentees from the “My Brother’s Keeper” program.
Obama asked McQueen about his run-ins with the law, getting back on a straight path and struggling to stay on that path – also chiming in with his own experience growing up without a father.
McQueen said that while his father lives “down the street,” the two don’t have a relationship.
“That’s one of the things we have in common. As I get older, I start reflecting on how that’s affected me,” Obama said. “How do you think that affected you?”
“You kinda learn right and wrong on your own terms. I got into fights. And fighting, or getting put out of school was, you know, normal,” McQueen said.
For McQueen, that snowballed into run-ins with law enforcement and ultimately violating a house arrest order.
That’s when things changed, McQueen said, explaining that he went to a “Christian retreat.”
“Did you say to yourself, “Man, I need to find something different and go to a Christian retreat?” Obama asked.
“Oh no sir, I didn’t want to go at all. My mom forced me,” McQueen said.
“Ok, so mama intervened, ‘Lord, please help me knucklehead son Noah straighten out.’” Obama chimed in.
The retreat wasn’t easy for McQueen, who didn’t relate to the problems other teenagers faced – like “a guy complaining about his mom not buying him the chips he want” whereas he had “a friend who was killed the week before.”
But the experience ultimately helped, McQueen said, explaining that he learned to be more responsible.
“So I’m not the same person, I’m not the same creature,” McQueen said.
Obama also asked McQueen if he still felt pressure to go back to his old ways – bringing a quick “definitely” from the 18-year-old.
“I’m sure you can relate. I feel like as a black man, just me coming on the train over here. I know how we’re perceived, I know how people look at us,” McQueen said. “Every time we step into the room, we have to be on top of your game. People gonna say, ‘You are the success story.’ And it’s hard to always make the right decision and it’s hard to always be the leader.”
Obama told McQueen, who said he wants to help kids and go into education, that he was proud of him and told him that while McQueen will still make mistakes, he’s now discovered “this strength inside yourself.”
“And if you stay true to that voice that clearly knows what’s right and what’s wrong, sometimes you’re going to mess up, but you can steer back and keep going,” Obama said. “I know you’re going to do great things.”