President Barack Obama kicked off his last round of commencement speeches as a sitting president at Howard University in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.
During what some would call an unapologetically Black address, Mr. Obama told graduates:
… be confident in your heritage. Be confident in your blackness. One of the great changes that’s occurred in our country since I was your age is the realization there’s no one way to be black. Take it from somebody who’s seen both sides of debate about whether I’m black enough. In the past couple months, I’ve had lunch with the Queen of England and hosted Kendrick Lamar in the Oval Office.”
Pres. Obama told the graduating class of 2016 the country is in a better place than when he graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and highlighted some of the changes he equated to progress for African-Americans:
“When I was graduating, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T. Rap and hip hop were counterculture, underground. Now, Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night, and Beyoncé runs the world. We’re no longer only entertainers, we’re producers, studio executives. No longer small business owners — we’re CEOs, we’re mayors, representatives, Presidents of the United States.”
During the 45-minute speech, Mr. Obama also touched on race inequality, voting rights, and encouraged graduates to keep pushing the country forward.
“We’ve still got a big racial gap in economic opportunity … Harriet Tubman may be going on the twenty, but we’ve still got a gender gap when a black woman working full-time still earns just 66 percent of what a white man gets paid.”
… remember the tie that does bind us as African Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life.
… thanks in large part to the activism of young people like many of you, from Black Twitter to Black Lives Matter, that America’s eyes have been opened — white, black, Democrat, Republican — to the real problems, for example, in our criminal justice system.
On Monday, Roland Martin and his panel of guests discussed President Obama’s commencement speech at Howard University and if it was his Blackest address to date.
NewsOne Now panelist Barbara Arnwine, President and Founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said Mr. Obama’s speech was “excellent in many regards that it had humor … it was very intellectual.”
She added, “I don’t agree with everything he said — would have probably nuanced somethings differently — but I thought it was a very strong speech and coming on the heels of the Correspondents’ dinner, I just got to say he’s got his swag on.”
Republican strategist Gianno Caldwell called Pres. Obama’s Howard University address a “keeping it real” moment. He added, “I appreciated a number of tones that he hit on this particular speech and I thought that he brought up some very good points, with regard to some of the accomplishments that African-Americans have made over the years and the ones we continue to make.”
Caldwell continued, “We got a whole lot more work to do, but I think it’s a good start and I think that we should continue to push the envelope in terms of creating greater success for ourselves and our community.”
Panelist Carmen Berkley of the AFL-CIO told Martin she is “so happy that President Obama is lit in his last couple of months before he leaves — maybe it is his Blackest speech ever because he is talking about income inequality, he’s talking about education.”
“I think the underlying message that he said is that we have to be activists … it’s not just about us going to college and making a bunch of money, it’s about us making sure that when Black people run for office and when we’re trying to achieve more, that we’re supporting each other,” said Berkley.
She continued, Mr. Obama addressing Black Lives Matter and talking about activism in the Black community is “what’s going to move our country forward.”
Watch Roland Martin and the NewsOne Now panel discuss Pres. Obama’s commencement speech at Howard University in the video clip above.
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