Helping launch a foundation to assist young minorities, Obama said the deaths of young black men were the catalysts of protests in Ferguson, Mo., and in Baltimore and "a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country."
"They experience being treated differently by law enforcement in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations," Obama said. "The statistics are clear, up and down the criminal justice system. There's no dispute."
The new organization, My Brother's Keeper Alliance, is an outgrowth of Obama's year-old My Brother's Keeper initiative, which has focused on federal government policies and grants designed to increase access to education and jobs.
While the effort predates the tensions in Baltimore that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, the significance of the new private-sector alliance has been magnified by the spotlight the riots in the city placed on low-income minority neighborhoods.
"By almost every measure, the life chances of the average young man of color is worse than his peers," Obama said. "Folks living in those communities, and especially young people living in those communities, could use some help to change those odds," Obama said.
Despite his criticism of inequities in criminal justice, Obama praised police officers for putting their lives on the line and singled out Brian Moore, a 25-year-old New York City police officer shot in the head over the weekend while attempting to stop a man suspected of carrying a handgun. He said police "deserve our gratitude and our prayers, not just today but every day. They've got a tough job."
"We ask police to go into communities where there is no hope," he said. "Eventually, something happens because of the tension between society and these communities, and the police are just on the front lines of that."
Obama described the plight of young minority men in deeply personal terms, alluding to his own youth raised by a single mother.
"I grew up without a dad. I grew up lost sometimes and adrift, not having a sense of a clear path," he said, adding that he was lucky because he was in an environment where people cared for him.
"Really, that's what this comes down to do we love these kids?" he said.
With high-profile names and an ambitious focus, the alliance is a possible building block for Obama's post-presidential pursuits. Obama has less than two years left in his presidency, and the new institution would likely sustain its work well after he leaves the White House.
The new alliance will be led by Joe Echevarria, the former chief executive of Deloitte, the giant accounting and consulting firm. The alliance already has obtained financial and in-kind commitments of more than $80 million from such companies as American Express, Deloittte, Discovery Networks and Fox News parent company News Corp., the White House said.
The alliance board is a who's who of the sports, corporate and entertainment worlds. Singer-songwriter John Legend is the alliance's honorary chairman; former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning is a member of the board. The alliance's advisory council will include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Attorney General Eric Holder and Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat; the mayors of Indianapolis, Sacramento and Philadelphia; and former NFL player Jerome Bettis and former NBA standout Shaquille O'Neal.
While in New York, Obama also taped an appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" and was attending Democratic Party fundraisers.
Obama told donors who paid $10,000 to hear him speak at an expansive Upper East Side apartment that he wants to live in America that lives up to the ideal that every child can succeed if he or she works hard.
"Whether we see the news in Ferguson or New York or Baltimore, what we know is that's still not the case," Obama said.