President Barack Obama said in a commencement speech on Saturday that USA race relations have improved over the last three decades, but that significant work still needs to be done.
"This institution has been the home of many firsts, the first African American Nobel Peace Prize victor, the first black Supreme Court Justice, but it's mission has been to ensure those firsts were not the last", Obama said. (Laughter.) When I was graduating, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T. (Laughter.) Rap and hip hop were counterculture, underground.
US President Barack Obama has highlighted the achievements of African Americans and admitted "Beyonce runs the world" during an address to Howard University graduates.
DeRay Mckesson, one of the most visible Black Lives Matter activists and a leader of We the Protesters, said policy and street protests informed one another.
Pointing to inroads made by black Americans, Obama said that Michael Jordan is no longer merely the "greatest basketball of all time, he owns the team" (Jordan is principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets). "We're mayors, representatives. President of the United States". The message could most succinctly be summed up by one line from his speech - "If you want to make life fair, you have to start with the world as it is".
Obama said the current generation is better positioned than any previous generation to "flip the script" on the remaining challenges of race and injustice.
Obama, who wrote about being black while raised by a white mother and grandparents, told the graduates the notion of what it meant to be black in America had changed since he graduated college.
In a winding commencement speech, the president followed a mold he often leans on in remarks to black audiences, particularly those filled with young people: a nod to our nation's racial history, a pit-stop on his presidency, and a call to pay it forward.
He offered his own election - actually, his 2012 reelection, he clarified, since voters knew what they were getting - as evidence.
So it was fittin that Obama began his address by telling the graduates to be confident in their heritage.
The president advised the students at the historically black university to "be confident in your blackness". "There's no straightjacket, there's no constraints, there's no litmus test for authenticity". He said the country is "a better place today" than when he graduated from Columbia University more than 30 years ago. "We can not meet the world with a sense of entitlement". Voting rights have been under attack across the country through laws that make it harder to cast a ballot, Obama said.
As Obama transitions from elected official to committed citizen, the words he used to inspire Howard University graduates to action surely will inform his own plans and aspirations. Obama also mentioned global music superstar Beyoncé and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes as examples of the advancements African-Americans have made in the US since he graduated from Columbia University in 1983.