On Father’s Day last June, President Barack Obama welcomed 14 teenagers sporting black-and-white T-shirts that read “BAM” into the Oval Office.
The letters stood not for the nickname occasionally slapped on the president by big-city tabloids, but for “Becoming a Man,” a program run by a Chicago nonprofit working with at-risk youth in the public schools. The president had met the group of young black men once before, when he dropped by one of BAM’s hourlong group discussion sessions at Hyde Park Academy High School last February. He’d pulled up a chair and sat in the boys’ circle that day, talking with them so long about their lives his aides worried he would blow up his carefully planned schedule during his visit to the city.
Now they were meeting again, teenagers from the South Side of Chicago and the president who began his organizing career not far from where they lived. It had already been an emotionally powerful trip for the boys, only two of whom had ever been on a plane before. Now here they were visiting with the most powerful man in the world in the inner sanctum of the Oval Office.