President Obama didn't grow up in an American dream. Raised by a financially struggling single mother: check. Abandoned by father: check. Rebellious phase of drug-use experimentation: double check. None of that stopped him from becoming one of the world's most powerful men.
Defying the odds is just part of the wisdom he'll share with 16 African-American teens during his Friday visit to Hyde Park Academy in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood. The teens are participating in a program called Becoming a Man, or B.A.M., which provides at-risk youths with school-based counseling, mentoring, educational enrichment and anger management skills. A study by the University of Chicago's Crime Lab found that B.A.M. participation significantly increased school engagement and performance and decreased student violence and arrests.
Obama will spend time with them before he delivers remarks to the school's students, faculty and community leaders about the economic proposals in his State of the Union address.
The opportunity to meet with the president of the United States and talk to him about their personal challenges, says Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, will benefit both the boys and the president.
"It's very personal to him because he didn't have a father; his father abandoned him. He was raised by a single mom, so he watched the challenges that she faced," said Jarrett. "He knows the challenges he created when he was a young African-American son. So I think he takes his role as a mentor very seriously and he leads by example. He goes home for dinner every night and is a present and involved father."
Jarrett praised both the president and First Lady Michelle Obama as "terrific role models for the African-American community." While in town for the funeral of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton last week, the first lady met with a group of her peers.
"Hadiya was going somewhere. She was going to college; she was involved in a lot of activities; she was a great kid," said Jarrett. "The first lady said when you think of her and you miss her, do something that Hadiya's not here to do. Live her life and fulfill her dreams. And you can do it because I was one of you."
When the president meets with the B.A.M. teens, Jarrett imagines he'll impart similar advice.
"He might say there was a time in his childhood when he may have been at risk," she said. Hopefully they will identify with them and if he can touch the lives of 16 young men, I think that's a pretty good thing."
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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)