CHICAGO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday that he wished his father had been a bigger part of his life as he argued that stronger families are just as important as gun control in reducing crime and violence in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
Obama returned to his old home neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago with a different take on his gun control message - that it will require an improved home environment for children to reduce the possibility that they will one day resort to violence.
To do that, he said, will require better economic conditions for low- and middle-class Americans, one reason he wants to raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $9, a proposal he offered in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, was raised largely by his mother and grandparents in Hawaii. His father, Barack Obama Sr., divorced Obama’s mother when the president was two years old, and he was the central figure in Obama’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father.”
Pointing to a group of at-risk teenage boys with whom he had met privately before delivering a speech, Obama said he had not been much different than them.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said in the address to high school students at Hyde Park Academy. “As the son of a single mom, who gave everything she had to raise me with the help of my grandparents, I turned out okay.”
“But at the same time, I wish I’d have had a father who was around and involved,” he told the mainly black audience.
Obama worked as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago but had a more privileged background than many of the children he addressed on Friday.
Chicago has suffered a surge in gang-related violence and is one of the most violent cities in America. Obama’s visit comes a week after his wife, Michelle, attended the funeral in the city of Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot dead a week after participating in the presidential inauguration.
At the start of his second term in office, Obama wants Congress to approve a series of tighter gun controls like requiring background checks for all firearms purchasers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
But as he made clear in Chicago it will take improvements in the home environment for children to keep them off the streets and that this will require help from parents, teachers and clergy.
“When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill,” Obama said.
In too many areas, “it can feel like the future only extends to the next street corner of the outskirts of town...There are entire neighborhoods where they don’t see an example of somebody succeeding,” he said.
Writing by by Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Ball and David Brunnstrom