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CNN Special Reports
AC360 Special: Barack Obama On Fatherhood, Leadership And Legacy. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 07, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to this AC360 special, "Barack Obama: On Fatherhood, Leadership and Legacy."
After leaving the White House, President Obama mostly stayed out of politics, though last year he did campaign for President Biden.
The former president and former first lady have signed production deals with Netflix. They both started podcasts. And Mr. Obama has continued his work with a program he launched while he was in the White House called My Brother's Keeper. It's now part of the Obama Foundation.
Its mission is to provide support for what it calls "pathways of opportunity" to young men of color. It's a deeply personal mission for President Obama, who grew up hardly knowing his own father and who by his own account didn't find his way until his late teens.
He writes about that, as well as how he balanced governing with being a husband and a dad in his recently published book "A Promised Land."
We dropped in on the former president in Chicago, in a high school where he was visiting with a group of young men who had been part of My Brother's Keeper to talk about their lives and the challenges they face.
COOPER: Are you going back to community organizing?
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, probably I'm a little too gray-haired and old to be going door to door like I used to be. And, plus, Secret Service still follows me around, so I'm pretty disruptive. But I am going back to what inspired me to -- to get into public life.
COOPER (voice over): One of the things that inspires former President Barack Obama these days are meetings like this one.
OBAMA: Hey, people.
(UNKNOWN): Hey, hey.
COOPER (voice over): It's called a BAM circle. BAM stands for "Becoming a Man," a program that started in Chicago in 2001 to mentor and support boys and young men.
OBAMA: How's everybody doing?
COOPER (voice over): The idea is to create a place for them to safely and honestly share their struggles and successes, issues at home, in school or on the streets.
President Obama first joined a BAM circle back in 2013. That's when he met high school students James Adams, Lazarus Daniels, and Christian Champagne. Today, in the same classroom they sat in eight years ago at the Hyde Park Academy, a high school on the South Side of Chicago, Mr. Obama is catching up with them again.
James and Lazarus are now 26. Christian is 25. He says talking with the president back then was life-changing.
CHRISTIAN CHAMPAGNE, BAM MENTEE: It was so crazy. That first period that I went to class, it was like, I'm fixing to meet the president on my lunch -- like, that was the most unconceivable thing that you could possibly think of. And then, like, my heart was, like, racing, like, when we were just sitting down, And he just walked in, and it was just like, I'm forever grateful. And it changed the trajectory of my life dramatically.
COOPER (voice over): That meeting had a big impact on President Obama, as well, one of the things that led him to launch an initiative called My Brother's Keeper, which he announced at the White House in 2014. Christian, Lazarus, and James were there.
COOPER: James, when you went to DC, that was your first time out of Chicago, is that right?
JAMES ADAMS, BAM MENTEE: Yeah. So that was my first plane ride.
And that was really my first time being out of my neighborhood.
CHAMPAGNE: Good afternoon.
OBAMA: Good afternoon.
COOPER (voice over): Christian Champagne was 18 years old at the time.
CHAMPAGNE: He sat down with us and shared his story. And to my surprise, he was just like me, growing up without a father and sometimes not too concerned with school.
LAZARUS DANIELS, BAM MENTEE: And it was like, oh, OK, that's -- that's pretty nice that this is a black president, grew up without a father. Some of the guys grew up without a father. It's relatable. It's not just, Oh, he had it made from jump and he's a president. It's, I can relate to him.
COOPER (voice over): Mr. Obama has been candid about the struggles of his youth. He hopes sharing his story will inspire other kids to believe they, too, can accomplish great things.
OBAMA: I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do.
COOPER: You say you were "a lackadaisical student, a passionate basketball player of limited talent and an incessant, dedicated partier."
"No student government for me, no Eagle Scouts or interning at the local congressman's office."
OBAMA: No, look, I -- you know, I was -- I have to be -- I have to be careful not to overstate. I was not, you know, going around, you know, beating kids up.
COOPER: I get it.
OBAMA: -- and, you know, setting things on fire. But I understood what it meant to not have a father in the house.
I understood what it meant to be in an environment in which you were an outsider.
In Hawaii, one difference between me and these young men was there weren't a lot of black people, generally, at the time, and--
COOPER: You also were growing up, before that, in Indonesia, as an outsider.
OBAMA: And I'm also an outsider in Indonesia. And so there was, mixed in with the teenage hormones and just, you know, the usual stuff that teens go through, that sense of What's my place, and how do I raise myself to be a man, and what does that entail? And what responsibilities are there? What obligations do I have?
And, you know, what I try to record in the book is the sense in which, in part, the values that my mother and my grandparents had instilled in me, even if I wasn't always following them when I was a teenager, led me to the realization, around 20 -- a little later than some of these guys -- that to be a full-grown man meant not acting out, not being cynical, but taking on some responsibilities, not just for yourself but also for the world around you.
COOPER (voice over): Helping boys and young men become full-grown men is what BAM is all about. And the Obama Foundation supports BAM programs in several cities through the My Brother's Keeper Alliance.
COOPER: Do you think you would have benefited from having this as a teenager?
OBAMA: I'm sure I could have. You know, when we came here, three of the guys here, you know, were still in school at the time, and we had a chance to have a conversation. And part of what I shared with them was -- and I think this surprised some of the guys -- was my life wasn't that different than yours. I wasn't that different from you. The main difference was I was growing up in a gentler environment.
COOPER: In Hawaii?
OBAMA: Right, in Hawaii. So, you know, the violence and drugs and some of the issues that the guys were dealing with day to day were different. But the mistakes I made, the struggles I was going through, were similar. And I think that it would have been useful for me at that time to have just a circle in which you can talk.
And -- and I think that, you know, one of the things we all learned from the pandemic was that human connection matters, that we're not all by ourselves, and we don't accomplish most of the things we accomplish by ourselves. You know, it -- it requires a community.
And I think, particularly for boys and young men of color, many of whom grow up without fathers but many of whom also live in relative isolation, where the communities, because of safety issues or economic issues, folks don't have as many resources around them.
It becomes that much more critical to be able to have some place where you can come and just say, listen, I'm struggling with this, or, you know, I'm confused about that, or, you know, these are the kinds of pressures I'm dealing with, and -- and have somebody who either is their peer or somebody older, who can say, yeah, man, that's something that I went through also, you know, I'm struggling with this, too, you know, this is something I'm confused about, and then being able to talk it through.
COOPER (voice over): President Obama says he found his purpose and ambition in life through community service, and eventually a career in politics. Becoming a father to daughters Sasha and Malia gave him the chance to be the kind of father he never had. James and Lazarus are now fathers as well.
OBAMA: We were talking before. The three of you guys were in the program. You were in the school. Now you guys have moved on. Two of you are now fathers.
ADAMS: Yes, sir.
OBAMA: And both of you have daughters.
DANIELS: Yes, proud, proud.
OBAMA: So, you know, Anderson here, he's a new father. How old is Wyatt now?
COOPER: He just turned one.
OBAMA: He just turned one. So -- so he's still in diaper-changing mode. Other than changing diapers, how has that changed your perspective? And how do you think about it?
Because, look, meeting the president, you know, that's cool. But it's not life-changing in the same way that being a parent is.
ADAMS: Before having a daughter, like, I was able to make stupid decisions.
But now that I have a daughter, I have to think about her. I have to think about her mother, her sister because now I'm the man of the house.
And everything that I do is pretty much revolved around her. So I want to be that father that's always there. I want to be the one that you come home from school to, that -- that brightens up your day. Anything that you need, you can always come to me.
I didn't have that growing up. I didn't have a father. Like, it was one point in time I didn't see my father for, like, 10 years.
ADAMS: So I want to be there for her, through everything.
How about you, Lazarus?
DANIELS: Being a father is -- is -- is amazing to me. My baby girl got a great big smile, full of energy, full of life, full of joy. I was fortunate to have my father and mother together. One thing BAM helped me out with was being able to speak on things, because I wasn't able to talk to my father because he was strictly business.
OBAMA: He was old school?
DANIELS: Old school all the way. I didn't understand that. I just wanted to talk to him and let him know, like, I need to talk to you. I've seen so much that my dad didn't even know I saw.
I think I was, like, seven when a -- a grown man shot at me. You know what I'm saying? It's so much that you see daily, so much that you see daily, nonstop, that you, as a man, are not supposed to feel.
So, with my daughter and my future children -- I'm going to have a lot of children--
I'm going to make sure the money is right to take care of all of that.
OBAMA: You better also check with mama.
She has something to do with it.
DANIELS: Sure. I'm going to definitely implement communication with my daughter, being able to open up and tell me how she feels.
COOPER: BAM counselors often act not only as mentors but also father figures to the young men in their group. They check in on their grades, their health, their safety.
Christian Champagne says President Obama has checked in with him over the years since they met more than his own father has.
OBAMA: What's going on, man? You doing all right?
OBAMA: Yeah? Things going all right?
Did you finish strong like you were supposed to?
CHAMPAGNE: Yeah, I did.
I know experience, excellence, is -- is possible. And I need to strive for that. Although sports are important to me, I focus on my GPA, and I will get it back to a 3.8.
COOPER: What's your life been like since -- since that meeting?
You went to Morehouse?
CHAMPAGNE: Yeah. I went to Morehouse, well, for like a semester, and then I realized I couldn't pay for it, so I had to come back home and start over and go to Western (ph), work through that, got a couple internships and landed a job that's a career job now.
But before, I wasn't even really thinking about going to college, to be honest, because I was always worried about could I pay for it? Could -- would I be accepted, you know.
I think, after the first visit, you may hear, I worked a little harder on my grades. You know, I stopped playing around. It was like maybe -- maybe I could do something else. Maybe I could go to college.
COOPER: When you -- I mean, when you sit in a circle like that, you know, the -- the obstacles these kids were facing and able to overcome is really extraordinary.
OBAMA: Yeah, no -- you know, the first time I sat down with these guys, the most important thing for me to communicate at that time -- and I was the president of the United States - was, You guys in many ways are ahead of me, of where I was at your age. I just had certain advantages you guys don't. I could make a mistake and land on my feet.
COOPER: But even -- I mean, you know, Christian is 25. He -- his single mom -- I think he had five or sixth brothers and sisters, family of six. You know, he got into Morehouse, had to drop out because of money, went to another school, had to drop out because he got ill. Now he's working, hoping to go back to school.
I mean, it's not a question of not working hard enough or, you know, being motivated enough.
OBAMA: And -- and that is where, sort of, for me, my personal journey intersected with, I think, this broader question of how are we setting up a society so that young men like that can succeed, or not succeed?
And that's what led me to the South Side of Chicago. That's what led me to be a community organizer, was that sense that, look, when I walk down the street on the South Side of Chicago, I see young people, and they look and remind me of me, or Michelle.
And a combination of circumstance allowed us to succeed, but these kids are just as talented. They are just as smart. They could achieve just as much if we've got an education system, a social safety net, job opportunities that expose them and give them a chance.
And, you know, I think that the single most important thing I learned as an organizer when I was here in Chicago was that, you know, the line between success or failure in this society so often is dictated not by anybody's inherent merits. It has to do with the circumstances in which they're in.
That doesn't mean they don't have individual responsibility. I think all these young men, you heard them, they recognize, no, I've got to work hard, I've got to do my part. But it also means that we as a society continue to fail them.
COOPER: But also, how stacked the deck is against so many people in our society from even before they are born.
COOPER: I mean, I heard -- I was reading the speech you gave a while back, a figure I had never heard before that by the age of 3 if you grew up in a low-income family, you've heard 30 million fewer words than a 3-year-old child in a well-off family.
OBAMA: Which means by the time you show up in first grade, you are already significantly behind. Now the good news is it turns out, as you're learning as a parent, kids are amazingly resilient and they can catch up. But it also means that we have to make investments to ensure that they catch up.
COOPER: Well, the other thing, I mean, I leave that room thinking how many other kids are there who aren't even in that room?
OBAMA: Well, one of the things we really liked about this program, Becoming A Man, was they didn't focus on the superstars, right?
That they deliberately target not the kids who are either in the most trouble or are either most successful in defying the odds, but the kids who are right there sort of in the middle that can tip in either direction, that if they get an encouraging adult, if they are able to, as Lazarus was expressing there, if they can find words to tell their story and express themselves and talk out what they're feeling, they can succeed.
And that's part of what I think made this conversation wonderful is, yes, these kids aren't like sort of one in a million. This is -- what you just heard was young black men all across this country. That's who they are. It's not the stereotypes we see on television.
COOPER: These were not prodigies or--
COOPER: -- savants.
OBAMA: No. This is who--
COOPER: But they are brimming with potential.
OBAMA: Yes. So if we have a society that is afraid of them, we need to listen and hear them because they're no different than you or I in so many ways except for the opportunities that they have or don't have.
COOPER (voice-over): Mr. Obama will be writing another book about his final years in the White House and what happened after, but in "A Promised Land," the president writes about the beginnings of the changes he witnessed firsthand in the Republican Party when John McCain selected Sarah Palin to his running mate.
COOPER: You talk about dark spirits that have long been lurking on the edges of the Republican Party coming center stage. Did you ever think it would get this dark?
COOPER (voice over): It has been more than four years since the Obamas left the White House. It was a moment the former president describes as bittersweet in his book.
OBAMA: Hello, everybody.
COOPER (voice over): Partly because they were leaving and partly because of what he thought might happen to the country.
COOPER: You write about Sarah Palin, about her brief ascendancy, and you talk about dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the Republican Party coming center stage. Did you ever thing it would get this dark?
OBAMA: No, I thought that there were enough guardrails institutionally that even after Trump was elected that you would have the so-called Republican establishment who would say, OK, you know, it's a problem if the White House isn't -- doesn't seem to be concerned about Russian meddling or it's a problem if we have a president who is saying that, you know, neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, there are good people on both sides. You know, that's a little bit beyond the pale.
And the degree to which we did not see that Republican establishment say hold on, time out, that's not acceptable, that's not who we are, but rather be cowed into accepting it, and then finally culminating in January 6th where what originally was, oh, don't worry, this isn't going anywhere, we're just letting Trump and others vent, and then suddenly you now have large portions of an elected Congress going along with the falsehood that there were problems with the election.
COOPER: And the leadership of the GOP briefly for, you know, one night when they still had this sort of scent of fear in them, you know, going against the president--
OBAMA: And then, poof. Suddenly, everybody was back in-line. Now what that -- the reason for that is because the base believed it. And the base believed it because this had been told to them not just by the president but by the media that they watch.
And nobody stood up and said stop, this is enough, this is not true. I won't say nobody, let me correct it. There were some very brave people who did their jobs like the secretary of state in Georgia who was then viciously attacked for it.
And all those congressmen started looking around and they said, you know what, I'll lose my job. I'll get voted out of office.
Another way of saying this is, I didn't expect that there would be so few people who would say well, I don't mind losing my office because this is too important. America is too important.
COOPER: Some things are more important than just--
OBAMA: Our democracy is too important. We didn't see that. Now, you know, I'm still the hope and change guy and so my hope is that the tides will turn. But that does require each of us to understand that this experiment in democracy is not self-executing.
It doesn't happen just automatically. It happens because each successive generation says these values, these truths we hold self- evident, this is important. We're going to invest in it and sacrifice for it and we'll stand up for it even when it's not politically convenient.
COOPER: One of the things you write, "we need to explain to each other who we are and where we are going." I mean, as somebody who has dedicated myself to storytelling, that really resonates with me. But I wonder, we -- are we as a country still willing to listen to each other's stories?
OBAMA: Well, I think this is the biggest challenge we have is that we don't have the kinds of shared stories that we used to. There has always been a division along the lines of race, right? You know, we have 400 years of whites and blacks not being able to have shared experiences because of slavery and segregation and so forth.
But even within, let's say, the white community, right, the stories of kids who are growing up in Manhattan and the stories of kids who are grows up in Abilene, Texas, and the stories of the kid who is growing up in Montana, those stories no longer meet, partly because of the segment -- you know, the siloing of the media, the internet, entertainment.
We occupy different worlds and it becomes that much more difficult for us to hear each other, see each other. The thing I learned, first as an organizer and then as an elected official, as a politician, was when you start hearing people's stories, you always find a thread of your own story in somebody else. And the minute that recognition happens, that becomes the basis for a community.
COOPER: But it does seem like something has changed so that it has become so extreme that we're not even allowing ourselves to get into a position where we can see that commonality. I've heard in the past you talk about when you were starting out in politics, you'd go down to southern Illinois to very conservative districts.
OBAMA: Yes, they would give me a hearing.
OBAMA: Yes. No, and I think that has changed. Part of it is the nationalization of media, the nationalization of politics. You know, the fact is that you used to have a bunch of local newspapers, local TV stations, people weren't having these highly ideological debates but they were kind of more focused on what is happening day-to-day. And part of it is also the structure of our economy and our communities.
Look, it used to be that a high school, the average high school in America, the average public high school, you would have the banker's kid and janitor's kid in the same school. And they would interact and they'd -- their parents would be both going to the same football game and would have to know each other.
And if it turned out that there was a talented kid of a janitor who also happened to be on the football team, the banker president might say, hey, why don't you come work at the bank here, because he knew that person.
Now, we have more economic stratification and segregation. [20:30:02]
You combine that with racial stratification and the siloing of the media, so you don't have just Walter Cronkite delivering the news--
OBAMA: -- but you have 1,000 different venues, all that has contributed to that sense that we don't have anything in common.
And so, so much of our work is going to have to involve not just policy, but it's also, how do we create institutions and occasions in which we can come together and have a conversation?
COOPER: In "Promised Land," you write, "Our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of a crisis."
Since you wrote that, there was the attack on the Capitol.
COOPER: You have got the big lie being pushed continually--
COOPER: -- by not only the former president, but Republicans in Congress.
COOPER: Are we still just teetering on the brink, or are we in crisis?
OBAMA: Well, I --
OBAMA: I think -- I think we have to worry when one of our major political parties is willing to embrace a way of thinking about our democracy that would be unrecognizable and unacceptable even five years ago or a decade ago.
When you look at some of the laws that are being passed at the state legislative level, where legislators are basically saying, we're going to take away the certification of election processes from civil servants, you know, secretaries of state, people who are just counting ballots.
And we're going to put it in the hands of partisan legislatures, who may or may not decide that a state's electoral votes should go to one person or another, and when that's all done against the backdrop of large numbers of Republicans having been convinced, wrongly, that there was something fishy about the last election, we have got a problem.
And this is part of the reason why I think the conversation around voting rights at a national level is important. This is why I think conversations about some of the institutional and structural barriers to our democracy working better, like the elimination of the filibuster or the end to partisan gerrymandering, is important.
But this is why it is also important for us to figure out, how do we start once again being able to tell a common story about where this country goes? And I -- that is not just the job of politicians, although I think elected officials have an important role.
That's where the media is going to have to play an important role. That is where companies have to play an important role. All of us, as citizens, have to recognize that the path towards an undemocratic America is not going to happen in just one bang. It happens in a series of steps.
And when you look at what's happened in places like Hungary and in Poland, that obviously did not have the same traditions, democratic traditions, that we did, they weren't as deeply rooted, and yet, as recently as 10 years ago, were functioning democracies, and now, essentially, have become authoritarian.
COOPER: Democracy does not always die in a military coup.
COOPER: Democracy dies at the ballot box.
OBAMA: That's exactly right.
And Vladimir Putin gets elected with a majority of Russian voters, but none of us would claim that that's the kind of democracy that we want.
COOPER: You wrote about the importance of getting exposed to other people's truths, and that is how attitudes change.
What happens when the only truth that people are willing to expose them to is their own?
Well, look, this is part of the challenge. It's part of the challenge with social media. I think there's been a lot of conversation about how we are able now to just filter out anything that contradicts our own biases, prejudices and predispositions.
It's not symmetrical. I have to say this. The truth is, is that, on what are -- what at least the right would consider liberal media, like CNN, you guys will still take Democrats to task for things. I think Democrats -- lord knows, when I was president, I was getting a lot of incoming from my own base.
And so, it's not symmetrical.
But what is true is, for all of us, there is a great danger that we just shut out anything that contradicts our own sense of righteousness in these big debates.
COOPER: Not only that, but then we otherize the other.
OBAMA: And we demonize the other side.
And so that is going to require steady effort. It probably is not going to be done at the federal level. It's probably going to involve communities finding ways to rebuild that sense of neighborliness, working together, conversations.
You know, one of the things that, having been out of office for a while, I have gone back to thinking about is, how can we do more bottom-up work to rebuild communities, to rebuild local media, to rebuild local conversations, because that's where I think there's still the most hope.
UNKNOWN: Disperse the area immediately.
COOPER (voice-over): It was during President Obama's eight years in the White House the American public began learning and saying the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, young black men killed by police, or, in Trayvon Martin's case, by a neighborhood watch volunteer, when Martin was 17 years old.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 19, 2013)
OBAMA: When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is that Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice over): President Obama was both praised and criticized for that statement, one of several reminders, for the first black American president, that how and when he discussed race was something he and his advisers had to think carefully about.
In his book, he writes that, early on in his presidential campaign, his advisers warned him about being boxed in as -- quote -- "the black candidate."
COOPER: Looking back, as president, did you tell the story of race in America enough, do you think?
OBAMA: Yes, well, look, I tried. I think I told a lot of stories.
You take a look at the speeches I gave in Selma, and the speech I gave during the campaign about Reverend Wright and that whole episode, and each and every time, I tried to describe why it is that we are still not fully reconciled with our history.
But the fact is that it is a hard thing to hear. It's hard for the majority in this country of white Americans to recognize that, look, you can be proud of this country and its traditions and its history and our forefathers, and yet it is also true that this terrible stuff happened, and that the vestiges of that linger and continue.
And the truth is, is that, when I tried to tell that story, oftentimes, my political opponents would deliberately not only block out that story, but try to exploit it for their own political gain.
I tell the story in the book about the situation where Skip Gates --
OBAMA: -- a Harvard professor who's trying to get into his own house, gets arrested. And I'm asked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 22, 2009)
OBAMA: I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry, number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And not only did that cause a firestorm, as you will recall.
OBAMA: You were already in the press at that time.
But subsequent polling showed that my support among white voters dropped more precipitously after that--
OBAMA: -- what should have been a minor, trivial incident--
OBAMA: -- than anything else during my presidency.
COOPER: That's extraordinary.
OBAMA: Well, and it gives a sense of the degree to which these things are still -- they're deep in us, and sometimes unconscious.
But I also think that there are certain right-wing media venues, for example, that monetize and capitalize on stoking the fear and resentment of a white population that is witnessing a changing America and seeing demographic changes, and do everything they can to give people a sense that their way of life is threatened and that people are trying to take advantage of them.
And we're seeing it right now, right, where you would think, with all the public policy debates that are taking place right now, that the Republican Party would be engaged in a significant debate about, how are we going to deal with the economy, and what are we going to do about climate change, and what are we going to do about -- lo and behold, the single most important issue to them currently right now is critical race theory.
Who knew that that was the threat to our republic? But those debates are powerful because they get at, what story do we tell about ourselves?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): The president who campaigned on hope and change sees the continued potential for that change in the next generation, which includes his own daughters. They came to the White House as children, but Sasha Obama is 19 years old now and a student at the University of Michigan. Malia is 22 and is at Harvard.
And while his daughters still keep a low public profile, Mr. Obama says they took part in the Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
COOPER: I'm wondering if, just as a parent, you were worried about them doing so.
And as somebody who's had daughters who were taking part in that, what do you make of those who are now saying -- the Black Lives Matter protesters, they are equating them with the people who attacked the Capitol?
OBAMA: Well, my daughters are so much wiser, more sophisticated and gifted than I was at their age, that I always worry about their physical safety. That's just the nature of fatherhood.
You will discover, when Wyatt stops just being immobilized in your house and can start wandering around, and can start --
COOPER: I'm not going to allow that.
OBAMA: -- driving cars and flying on plane s--
COOPER: That's not going to be allowed.
OBAMA: -- you're terrified all the time.
But in terms of them having a good sense of what's right and wrong, and their part and role to play in making the country better, I don't worry about that. They have, both, a clear sense of -- that I see in this generation, that what you and I might have tolerated as, yes, that's sort of how things are, their attitude is, Why? Let's change it.
And that's among not just my daughters, but it's among their white friends, right? There's this sense of, well, of course it's not acceptable for a criminal justice system to be tainted by racism. Of course, you can't discriminate against somebody because of their sexual orientation, right?
There are things they take for granted that I want them to take for granted.
But what I find interesting is, they're also starting to be very strategic about how to engage the system and change it. They're not just interested in making noise. They're interested in what works.
And at least in conversations with my daughter, I think that a lot of the dangers of cancel culture, and we're just going to be condemning people all the time, at least among my daughters, they will acknowledge that, sometimes, among their peer group or in college campuses, you will see folks going overboard.
OBAMA: But they have a pretty good sense of, Look, we don't want -- we don't expect everybody to be perfect. We don't expect everybody to be politically correct all the time. But we are going to call out institutions or individuals if they are being cruel, if they're discriminating against people. We do want to raise awareness.
A great source of my optimism -- when people talk about what kind of -- how do I think about my legacy, part of it is the kids who were raised during the eight years that I was president, there are bunch of basic assumptions they make about what the country can and should be that I think are still sticking.
They still believe it. And they're willing to work for it.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hands up, don't shoot!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No justice, no peace!
COOPER (voice-over): And while the Black Lives Matter movement has brought national attention to the issue of police reform, these young men in the BAM program say they feel a dual threat every time they go outside -- there's fear and distrust of the police and fear of gun violence on the streets.
OBAMA: Here in Chicago this year, let's face, it has been an increase in violence. You know, when we met last time, obviously on the south side, west sides of Chicago and some of the surrounding suburbs, there'd been gun violence for a while, gang activity for a while.
We've seen an uptick in it, and then we've also had to process the fact that the relationship between police and community is not what we want it to be.
And so often, young black men, you know, experienced police not as a positive force to protect, but as somebody who is going to see you as a -- as a suspect, or somebody to be feared. How has that played out for you guys? Both while you're still in school, but also now that you're working?
DANIELS: Police in Chicago -- for a while, I was driving Lyft. While I was still in college, I come home in the weekends, drive Lyft.
DANIELS: I was getting pulled over like crazy. Almost every night, I was getting pulled over.
But the first question they asked, they asked, how are you doing, officer, how is it going? Their first question, do you have drugs or weapons in the car? Granted, I'm a big black guy, you know, with locks, and, you know, the first thing they see, I'm just suspicious.
But, as I was telling the guys, I got to make it home to my family. I can't be another case where some officer have his knee on my neck, choking me out.
So, my biggest thing is making it back home, regardless. Anything that's going on outside -- you know, I love my family, love my baby more, and that's a feeling that you're going to feel, Mr. Cooper, like get home.
Even when your eyes feel like they are about to pop out, you get home to your baby, and that joy and that feeling that you get from that baby, it's amazing. It gives you a little spark of energy.
COOPER: I just love that baby smell. I want like to bury my face in his neck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the diaper change, right?
LAZARUS: Yes, that's mostly important to me, and making it home regardless -- regardless of the police. They don't know me from a can of paint.
OBAMA: Yeah. How about you guys?
COOPER (voice over): Two of the participants in this BAM circle are still in their teens.
Armahn Moorman is 14. He wants to become a visual artist when he grows up.
Kingsley McCarthy is 15, and dreams of being an actor, or a dancer. They both say they feel like they risk their lives every time they leave their homes.
OBAMA: When you think about being in school, is this something you have to worry about? Just -- not necessarily police, but just shootings, violence, you know? Generally, is that something you think about? Or is it something that is not your primary distraction?
ARMAHN MOORMAN, BAM MENTEE: Me, personally, I love like going outside. I love interactions with people. And -- but it's like in the neighborhood that I live in, it's very hard to do that. Every night, it's like before I go to bed, is it a gunshot that I'm hearing? Is it fireworks?
Also, like, I like to wear -- I like wearing hoodies. So when I walk down the street, like, is somebody going to come and target me because I'm wearing a hoodie? Do they think I'm up to no good? So, that's how I see it.
KINGSLEY MACCARTHEY, BAM MENTEE: Yes, I'd like to add on to Armahn. I walked past a police car, they might, you know, mistake me for doing something wrong, or going somewhere that I have no business going.
COOPER: James, you worried about this a lot when you were in high school? What about now?
ADAMS: So, yeah, high school, I actually used to have to map out my bus route, and I actually used to have to wear a bulletproof vest, so I would wear the vest to school, and once I got here, I would hand a vest over to Principal Ross, and after school, I would put the vest back on, navigate through all of the gang infested areas back home to where I felt safe.
OBAMA: Uh-huh. What have you been seeing? Are you guys -- are you still on the 70?
ADAMS: So, I'm no longer in Englewood. Right now, I'm in Marquette Park, I know that's not a big difference.
ADAMS: But, now, I don't go to certain gas stations. I don't go to certain restaurants. And I also bought another vest.
So, it's still the same thing. It's not over with just because I'm out of school.
OBAMA: Right. And, obviously, as a father, it makes you that much more stressed.
ADAMS: Yes, yes. But, as far as shootings, like the vest may protect me from that, but encounters with the police? What's going to protect me from that? What's going to stop me from going to jail even if I didn't do anything?
OBAMA: Right. So, you feel like you're getting it from both sides.
ADAMS: Yeah, you're fighting to gangs. You have the street gangs, and you have the Chicago police.
CHAMPAGNE: Growing up, I mean, being my age now, I just became so desensitized to it. It was just like routine, like overpolicing, gangs, just trying to stay out of the way mostly.
I don't drive because I get anxiety, because it's just -- it's like I don't -- I don't want to be another hashtag essentially. Like I want to live my life out, until I'm like at least 80 or something, you know?
OBAMA: Not unreasonable.
COOPER (voice over): While Christian says he wants to live until he's 80 years old, James never thought he'd make it to be 26 because of all the violence in the neighborhood where he grew up. All three young men have had their struggles over the years and they're now building lives for themselves and their families.
OBAMA: You have a sense of what's going on in the neighborhoods, how do you think we can be most helpful to you, guys?
COOPER (voice over): Across the street from the Hyde Park Academy, on the South Side of Chicago where we met with the former president, is Jackson Park. This is the future site for the Obama Presidential Center which will break ground later this year.
There is hope that the sprawling campus will revitalize this neighborhood, where Michelle Obama was raised and where Barack Obama started his career.
OBAMA: Right across the street, we're going to be building the Presidential Center. A lot of our focus is going to be programming for the young people in the community -- boys, and girls, young men and young women.
And given that you, guys, have all gone through this program, BAM, you're in the middle of going through it, you've seen some things, you have a sense of what's going on in the neighborhoods -- how do you think we can be most helpful to you guys?
What are the things that you think would be most helpful in young people being able to navigate their own lives -- to be successful in school, to have a positive future, to be confident that they can get to 80?
Give me some sense of what are some gaps that we could fill or some things that are working that we need to build back up.
MACCARTHY: For me, I feel like having someone to communicate with or to run to without having to worry about getting injured or shot.
OBAMA: So, just having a place -- a safe space where you can have conversations, interact with peers --
OBAMA: -- talk things out, learn -- maybe learn from people who are a bit older than you, have different experiences, and get exposed to different things?
CHAMPAGNE: I believe there should be like more opportunities, like more internships, more variety of things to do in our communities because not everybody want to hoop, or play -- play ball, play football.
MOORMAN: To trail on to that, I do agree. I feel like there should be more sponsorships and more things within the schools, such as like afterschool program, like keep the kids from off the streets, like things that they want to do like not everybody wants to fight all the time. Like people want to express their selves with their art.
DANIELS: Like Christian said, he got motivated when he saw you. Other neighborhoods, they see people like that all the time, successful people, all the time. We need people to come into the community. He like arts. We need successful that does visual arts in front of him, you know.
So I'm saying things like that. Like there's people that's my age that never tied a tie in their life, but you go into more gifted communities, they learn how to tie a tie, they know the difference of forks for food and salad fork, the soup spoon.
OBAMA: I didn't learn that until I got to the White House.
DANIELS: Right. That's when I learned it, off a visit with you.
OBAMA: Remember that?
DANIELS: We ate sandwiches.
OBAMA: I gave you -- I gave you the tip. You do this. And that's the bread and that's the drink, the B and the D. That's how I remembered so I wasn't eating somebody else's bread and drinking somebody else's drink.
DANIELS: So, just being able to see things positive in front of them, not just a basketball court, where they can come here, not just a boxing ring, where they can come in and let some anger off, do some push-ups. They don't, they don't -- that's not -- that's not everything that, you know -- he's not even into that.
So we got to put in front of young people that are successful in their field.
OBAMA: That's a great idea. Great thinking.
COOPER (voice over): Hearing each other's stories, seeing each other as we are may not be a simple thing, but for President Obama, it is a crucial step to bring this country back from the brink.
OBAMA: I'm proud you, guys. Thanks for speaking out (ph). I'm proud of you. All right.
I like what you're saying about your daughter. I think it's right. All right? Good luck, man. Good to see you, guys.
If we are meeting face-to-face and hearing each other's stories, we can bridge our divides. And the question now becomes how do we create those venues, those meeting places for people to do that? Because right now, we don't have them, and we're seeing the consequences of that.