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Remarks by Associate Attorney General Tony West at My Brother's Keeper Summer Success Workshop


Las Vegas, NV
United States

Good morning.  They told me there would be some Huskies in the house -- are there any Huskies out there? I am so pleased to be here at West Prep, here at this incredible school with the faculty and staff.  But most of all I am excited to be with all of you -- future role models and leaders of this city, this state, and, no doubt, this country.

Let me thank Principal Eichelberger for welcoming me here today.  Let me also thank an outstanding leader in the Congress, Representative Steven Horsford.  Thank you, Congressman, for all you do for your constituents and for the American people to make the future brighter for our youth.

I also want to thank the many parents, mentors and business leaders who are here today:  the difference you are making with young people everyday will pay dividends not only in their lives, but in the life of this country, so thank you.

I'm not going to talk too long because I came out here to spend time talking with you instead of at you, so let me take just a moment to share something with you -- something my dad told me when I was growing up and still trying to figure things out.

My dad was one of the greatest mentors and role models in my life.  He grew up poor, in the racially-segregated Deep South.  He spent his childhood working his grandparents' farm, where they labored as sharecroppers.  And like a lot of young men today, he grew up without a father in the house.

But even though my dad grew up in a very different time, and in a very different place, I think what he told me is still relevant today.  He'd say that each of us, no matter who we are or where we come from -- we all have the power to choose who we become in life.  It's a power that no one can take away from us; we can decide, in each moment, how we react to the world around us. 

And those decisions we make, everyday -- they can make a big difference.

Now, I know right now, it may sometimes seem like you don't have any choice -- that someone, usually an adult, is always telling you what to do, where to go, how to act.  Right?

And, if you're lucky, there is someone older than you who's helping to guide you to make the best decisions. 

But in the moments that matter most, it's you who makes the choice.  And it's important to recognize those decision points, those times when we can step back and ask ourselves whether the choices we're making are getting us closer or farther away from where and who we want to be. 

Whether to take school seriously or cut class.  Whether to participate in something you know you and your friends shouldn't be doing or saying "no" and walking the other way.  Whether you think twice before texting that inappropriate photo to your friends. 

Each of those decision points gives us an opportunity to choose.  And I know you all know how to make good choices; you wouldn't be here if you hadn't already made a lot of good choices in your lives.

But I also know, sometimes we make mistakes.  I know I didn't always make the best choice.  Sometimes I messed up.  And when I stumbled, I had people in my life who helped me get back on my feet.  Because making the occasional mistake isn't as important as getting up when you fall, dusting yourself off and continuing to move forward. 

So I want you to know that there are people in your life who are rooting for you.  Parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, counselors -- we're all rooting for your success. Because we need you.  Each of you has something important to give to the world.  Each one of you has a job to do in this world.  You weren't put in this world by accident. 

Maybe you have a special talent -- maybe you can draw or sing or play an instrument. 

Maybe you can stand up in front of a crowd of people and speak eloquently like Kwiesi Davis.  Or maybe you can shoot a three pointer like no one else, or you can play baseball or soccer or run track, like I did. 

Maybe you love math, or science, or reading or writing.  Maybe you have younger brothers and sisters who look up to you because you're a leader in their eyes. 

Whatever it is, there is something unique, something special that only you can bring to the world.

And I want you to know there are a lot of adults out there who want to help you do that.

That's why we're here this morning.  As I know you've been hearing in your school, My Brother's Keeper is an initiative launched by President Obama earlier this year to help give every young person who is willing to work hard and play by the rules the chance to reach his or her own potential.  And we're trying to accomplish that goal by involving agencies throughout the federal government, working with private foundations, state and local agencies, schools, community and faith-based organizations, and Members of Congress like Representative Horsford. 

And we're focusing on young people like you, because we know that's where the need is greatest.  We know that young people of color -- particularly young men and boys of color -- are more likely to drop out of school; more likely to live in poverty; more likely to find themselves involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems; more likely to become victims of violent crime.

We know those statistics.  And we know we don't have to accept them.  We reject those statistics and demand better because each of you has something unique, something special that only you can bring to the world.

That's a big reason why at the Department of Justice – through our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and our Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships – we are working with underserved and at-risk youth by connecting them with mentors, supporting them if they have a parent who is incarcerated, and working with them to promote responsible fatherhood. 

And we know that if we focus on key milestones in your young lives, we can dramatically improve the odds that you'll be able to share your unique gifts with the world.

So we need to make sure all of our young people are getting a healthy start and entering school ready to learn, and that, by the third grade, our kids are reading at grade level.

We need to make sure all of you graduate from high school ready for college and career, and that when you do, you go on to graduate school or training that will prepare you to enter the workforce successfully, compete and win.

And we need to help our youth stay on track and help them get a second chance when they stumble.

And we -- teachers, parents, faith and community leaders -- we will help you do all of those things.  But the last thing I'll leave you with is this:  no matter how much help you're given, ultimately it's up to each of you to make the decision to succeed. 

My Brother's Keeper is about letting young people take responsibility for themselves and realizing success on their own terms.  Those of us in positions of leadership -- we need to do our part to make sure you have a fair shot at your dreams; that you're not being held back by bias and discrimination; that the justice system designed to protect your rights is treating you fairly.  That's our job.

Your job is to accept that opportunity and make the most of it.  Your job is to make the best choices you can for your lives now and in the future; to accept the invitation to fulfill the unique promise that each of you possesses. 

We can help you, but you can also help each other.  Keep your family and friends close.  Help each other up if one of you stumbles and falls.  Listen to experienced voices so you know which paths to follow and which to avoid, and listen to your own conscience because deep down, you know right from wrong.  Keep working hard and most of all, keep believing in yourselves.  Because we will never stop believing in each and every one of you. 

Updated September 17, 2014