Two hundred cities across the country are working with former President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, or MBK, to identify the barriers that young men of color face “and knock those barriers away so that they can succeed,” former President Barack Obama told “CBS Mornings” co-host Nate Burleson Tuesday. And during the interview, Obama took a moment to address the “splintered media” that has resulted in broken politics across America.
Obama said the thing that most worries him about addressing gun violence and most other issues is that Americans can no longer agree on basic facts. “We almost occupy different realities,” the 44th president said.
“The thing that I’m most worried about is the degree to which we now have a divided conversation, in part because we have a divided media, a splintered media,” Obama said. “When I was coming up, you had three TV stations … and people were getting a similar sense of what is true and what isn’t, what was real and what was not.”
Today, the problem is not just disagreeing on how to solve a problem, but often on whether or not a problem exists. “Now people will say, ‘Well, that didn’t happen,’ or, ‘I don’t believe that,’” Obama said.
One of the the goals of the Obama Foundation is “How do we return to that common conversation? How can we have a common set of facts?” he said.
“We may disagree on gun violence in terms of what the best prescriptions are, but we can’t deny the data that says the United States has levels of gun violence that are five, 10, 15 times more than other countries. So if we say that it’s just a mental health problem, well, it’s not like there aren’t … mental health problems in those other countries. ‘What’s the difference? This is probably the difference.’ Now, we can have a debate, but at least we’ve agreed on some facts.”
Obama launched the program in 2014 in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, and last week announced a new effort targeting four communities — Newark, New Jersey; Omaha, Nebraska; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Yonkers, New York — where the program will expand its offerings for boys and young men of color.
The initiative encompasses issues from helping young people prepare for school to reducing gun violence. In the interview, Obama acknowledged that the efforts are taking place amid widespread gun violence and a national stalemate about how to address it.
“We are unique among advanced developed nations in tolerating, on a routine basis, gun violence in the form of shootings, mass shootings, suicides,” Obama said.
“In Australia, you had one mass shooting, 50 years ago, and they said, ‘Oh, we’re not doing that anymore,’” he said. “That is normally how you would expect a society to respond when your children are at risk.”
But in the U.S., gun ownership has become an ideological and partisan issue “in ways that it shouldn’t be,” the former president said. “It has become sort of a proxy for arguments about our culture wars.”
“Instead of thinking about it in a very pragmatic way, we end up really arguing about identity, and emotion, and all kinds of stuff that does not have to do with keeping our children safe.”
CBS News data has tracked more than 200 mass shootings, or incidents in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter, already this year.
But Obama said that even with no action on the federal level, communities can work to reduce violence. “We don’t have room for cynicism and we can’t give up,” he added.
Among the programs MBK sponsors is Guitars Over Guns, a grassroots project that seeks to empower young people through music and mentorship. Obama recently visited one of their events and spoke with the young people learning about music writing and production.
“What was most powerful about it was seeing these young men really looking out for each other,” he said. “Getting more of that in our communities is also going to make a difference.”
“It’s a matter of ‘want to’ on the part of the broader society,” he added.