In his first address to civil rights leaders since his election, President Obama on Thursday challenged black America to cast aside excuses and work toward a better future for its children.

Speaking in New York to the NAACP in its centennial year, Obama minced no words in recognizing the persistence of inequalities and discrimination. But those conditions, he said, must not be used to excuse failure.

“We have to say to our children, `Yes, if you’re African-American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face,’ ” Obama said. “But that’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands.”

The president called on parents to put away the Xbox and spend more time reading to their children, attending parent-teacher conferences and helping with homework.

It was the kind of tough-love message that black audiences have come to expect from the nation’s first African American president, who himself grew up under challenging conditions.

Reminding his audience of sacrifices made by Civil Rights pioneers, the president said that black America has come far since the dark days of Jim Crow but that more work remains.

“If three civil rights workers in Mississippi — black and white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred — could lay down their lives in freedom’s cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time,” he said. “We can fix our schools, heal our sick and rescue our youth from violence and despair.”

The president also called on black parents to set higher goals for its children.

“They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be the next LeBron or Lil Wayne,” he said. “I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States.”

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