Obama: ‘I Got High’

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama embraces students from the Chicago’s Youth Guidance program Becoming a Man after delivering remarks about his ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative in the East Room at the White House on Feb. 27, 2014 in Washington, DC.

This is hardly the first time that President Barack Obama has spoken of getting high with a little help from his friends.

Yet the setting bore a certain poignancy, as the president of the United States cast himself as a product of the same community of troubles that many young black men and boys face today.

“I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do,” Obama said of his own youth at an event in the East Room of the White House yesterday to promote a program, ``My Brother’s Keeper.” He was surrounded with young black men from Chicago, where he too was raised without a father and confronted dangerous temptations.

“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 that it could do.  I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have.  I made excuses.  Sometimes I sold myself short.”

“The point was I could see myself in these young men,” the president said. “And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe.”

Obama wrote long ago about these experiences, in the memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” that he published after finishing Harvard Law School — the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review.  In the 1995 account of his early life, he admitted to using marijuana and cocaine — “a little blow” — and said he stopped short of heroin because he didn’t like the pusher who was trying to peddle it to him.

“Junkie. Pothead,” he wrote in his memoir. “That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. . . . I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind.”

In his first campaign for president, he also confronted more directly the question of that marijuana use than former President Bill Clinton had.

“When I was a kid, I inhaled,” then-Sen. Barack Obama said in 2006.

Clinton had said he hadn’t.

Yesterday, the kid from Hawaii who became a community organizer in Chicago and grew up to be a senator and president said of the young men surrounding him, some of whom he had met before in his adopted home town of Chicago, at the Hyde Park Academy:

“I told these young men my story then, and I repeat it now because I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had.  And that’s why we’re here today — to do what we can, in this year of action, to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices, and to be resilient, and to overcome obstacles, and achieve their dreams. ”

– Mark Silva contributed

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