Since World War II, the post-presidency years of most of our former chief executives have centered around the construction of presidential libraries, writing memoirs, burnishing legacies through foundations, making vast amounts of money, and, in many ways, doing social good.
Moved by the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and troubled by the direction of some young African-American men, President Barack Obama has created a foundation called My Brother's Keeper. With a five-year commitment and $200 million in seed money from private foundations and donors, My Brother's Keeper will seek answers to many of the stubborn problems facing young men of color. Obama says that this will be the central work of his post-presidency.
Sadly, the litany of problems that My Brother's Keeper will address is not a mystery to America. Inadequate parenting, substandard education, institutional racism within power structures, and chronically high entanglement within the criminal justice system are hurdles for many young black and Latino males.
Calling the pursuit of a national strategy for young minority men a "moral issue for our country" at a Feb. 27 speech at the White House, Obama cited himself as a kid who could have just as well gone off track.
"I didn't have a dad in the house," Obama said. "And I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes, I sold myself short."
Obama did figure things out -- going to Occidental College, then on to Columbia University. From there, Harvard Law School, Illinois politics, the U.S. Senate, and, in 2008, the White House. This is a well-known narrative.
What is not well known is why Obama waited five years to make this a national priority. Perhaps it was his seeming reluctance to call attention to himself as the first black president, a self-evident and resonant milestone not just visible to young African-Americans but to all Americans, that led to that delay.
When Obama weighs in on issues he actually cares about, his rhetoric soars and he gets things done.
Now with the end of his term within sight, his engagement in the awful and intractable problems facing a group whose very problems were his own is heartily welcomed.