President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Monday discussed the economic underpinnings of racial tension in places like Baltimore as he announced the creation of a nonprofit organization intended to provide opportunities for young men of color.

"Some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them," Obama said. "And folks living in those communities, and especially young people living in those communities, could use some help to change those odds."

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Obama traveled to the Bronx to announce the creation of a private group that is spinning off from his My Brother's Keeper initiative, which his administration created last year to close the gap minority students experience in education and job opportunities. The trip had been scheduled for weeks, but the recent unrest in Baltimore increased attention on the effort.

"And that sense of unfairness and of powerlessness, of people not hearing their voices, that's helped fuel some of the protests that we've seen in places like Baltimore, and Ferguson, and right here in New York," the president said. "The catalyst of those protests were the tragic deaths of young men and a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country."

The new My Brother's Keeper Alliance has secured $80 million in commitments from companies such as American Express, Deloitte Consulting and Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications. Organizers hope to use the money to support programs that offer early childhood education and job training, among other things.

Obama announced the idea in February, marking at least a symbolic departure for a president who had often resisted focusing policies on individual racial groups. At the time, the effort had secured commitments from foundations, including the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, to spend $200 million over five years.

Eighty-six percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys in fourth grade read below a proficient level, compared with 58 percent of white boys, according to the White House. Students who fail to read proficiently are, in turn, far more likely to drop out of school.

And despite economic progress, unemployment among blacks remains nearly double that of whites -- a gap that has not changed significantly since the 1960s, despite billions of dollars spent annually on education, criminal justice and workforce development programs.

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