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President Barack Obama on Thursday launched an initiative close to his heart, designed to bring local governments, businesses and philanthropies together to help bolster the lives of young men of color.

"There are examples of extraordinary achievement … . We don't need to stereotype and pretend there's only dysfunction out there," Obama said during the White House event. "But, 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America's children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure, and it's worse for boys and young men."

The program is rooted in the president's work to help mentor a group of young men from Hyde Park Academy in his hometown of Chicago, whom he first met a year ago and were present at the White House for today's announcement.

Obama recounted a litany of statistics about the ways in which young men of color often lag behind, calling it an issue of the utmost national importance.

"The worst part is we've become numb to these statistics," he said. "We've just assumed this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is."

Obama also spoke in candid terms about his own struggles as a young man without a father.

"I made bad choices. I got high, without always thinking about the harm it could do," he said, while also noting that he also grew up in a more forgiving environment than many young men of color today.

To that end, Obama said even the best government programs or community development wouldn't help reverse disparities that have become entrenched over generations. He encouraged parents to read to their children and to be involved in their school communities.

And Obama, who's spoken at length about his struggles as a child with not knowing his father, encouraged fathers to be more involved, too.

"Nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son's life," he said.