Obama To Ambitious Teen: 'You've Got This Strength Inside Yourself'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Friday means it is time again for StoryCorps, and today, a teenager with an unlikely interview partner.
NOAH MCQUEEN: My name is Noah McQueen. I am the age of 18. And my relationship to the partner is he's the president of the United States.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My name is Barack Obama. I'm 53 years old, and I'm talking to Noah, who is a White House mentee.
GREENE: Noah McQueen is part of "My Brother's Keeper," a White House program aimed at young men of color. His teen years have been rough and include several arrests and time in jail. But last week he was at the White House and sat down for StoryCorps with President Obama who wanted to know more about Noah's life.
MCQUEEN: Growing up I didn't have a stable household. So I believe I attended eight or nine middle schools throughout the course of, you know, two or three years.
OBAMA: Did you know your dad?
MCQUEEN: I do know my dad. You know, he's down the street but...
OBAMA: You didn't really have a relationship with him. Well, that's one of the things we have in common. As I get older, I start reflecting on how that affected me. How do you think that affected you?
MCQUEEN: You kind of learn right and wrong on your own terms. I got into fights and fighting or getting put out of school was, you know, normal. So that's how really the trouble started for me being in the juvenile system. I was on the run.
OBAMA: You were on the run how so?
MCQUEEN: From the law.
OBAMA: Yeah, what had you done?
MCQUEEN: I believe it was - what's it called...
OBAMA: What you mean, you believe? It was something. You know what it was.
MCQUEEN: It was violation of house arrest.
OBAMA: So you had gotten in repeated trouble. And what happened?
MCQUEEN: I went to a Christian retreat.
OBAMA: Did you say to yourself, man, I need to find something different and go to a Christian retreat?
MCQUEEN: Oh, no, sir, I didn't want to go at all. My mom forced me.
OBAMA: Oh, OK. So Mama intervened. Said, Lord..
OBAMA: Please help my knucklehead son, Noah, straighten out. Are you skeptical when you get there?
MCQUEEN: Our problems were totally different. Like, their problems were a guy complaining about his mom not buying him the chips he want or...
MCQUEEN: Or different things like that. And then I'm talking about my friend was killed the week before, so...
OBAMA: Right, what happened that softened you up a little bit?
MCQUEEN: It wasn't until I decided to do better for myself that, you know, I had to be held accountable for my actions. So I'm not the same person. I'm not the same creature. Everything about me and my being is different.
OBAMA: Obviously you've straightened yourself out. You're sitting here in the White House hanging out with the president. So when people are seeing you in this new light, did you feel pressure to revert back to the way you had acted before?
MCQUEEN: Definitely, there's always pressure, even now. I'm sure you can relate. I feel like as a black man, just me coming on the train over here, I know how we're perceived. I know how people look at us. Every time we step into the room, we have to be on top of your game. People are going to say you are the success story. And it's hard to always make the right decision. And it's hard to always be the leader.
OBAMA: Well, look - listen, at the age of 18, I didn't know what I was going to be doing with my life. And you shouldn't feel like you can't make mistakes at this point. You're 18 years old. I promise you, you're going to make some more as you go along. But one of the things you've discovered is you've got this strength inside yourself. And if you stay true to that voice that clearly knows what's right and what's wrong, sometimes you're going to mess up, but you can steer back and keep going. And so when you think about 10 years, 15 years from now, what would you like to be doing?
MCQUEEN: I just decided recently I want to do education because I do want to work with kids. You know, to see the beginnings and to see where I was, see the exact same kid doing the exact same thing. And it's like, we owe it to everyone and ourselves to come back and change that. And that's, like, our civic duty, I believe.
OBAMA: Yeah. Noah, I just want to say how proud I am of you, man. It's not an easy thing to do what you've have done. And I think you give others a lot of confidence and a sense of what's possible for them. And that makes me real proud. I know you're going to do great things.
MCQUEEN: Thank you, I appreciate it.
GREENE: Eighteen-year-old Noah McQueen speaking with President Obama for StoryCorps. Their conversation was recorded at the White House and will be archived at the Library of Congress. Now, just a quick note - at NPR, it is our policy not to make internal edits in interviews with sitting presidents - pauses, throat clearing - you hear it all. Like all StoryCorps conversations, this one was edited just like when George W. Bush joined StoryCorps in 2008. You can hear those interviews online and learn more about Noah on the StoryCorps podcast on iTunes and at NPR.org.
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