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During his first term, President Obama waded gingerly into the issue of race, mindful of the historic nature of his presidency while at the same time downplaying its significance.

With a couple of exceptions — criticizing a police officer who arrested a prominent black Harvard University scholar as he fumbled to open the door to his home and speaking in personal terms about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin — Obama didn’t make any big headlines on the issue early in his presidency.

But deep into his second term, Obama talks about race with a frequency and frankness that has left some black policymakers and activists cautiously optimistic about the nation’s first black president’s final years in office.

In recent weeks, the president has begun to draw the outlines for the legacy he hopes to leave on race and civil rights.

He will unveil an initiative — dubbed “My Brother’s Keeper” — on Thursday that in part focuses on reducing disproportionately high unemployment rates in the African-American and Hispanic communities. Among those likely to attend Thursday’s announcement at the White House are young men Obama met in his adopted hometown of Chicago a year ago. He bonded with the youngsters over a conversation about the problems with gangs, drugs, gun violence and substandard schools in their neighborhood.

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