At times of great turmoil, what the country needs most is a steady voice of leadership from someone who can soothe, unify, and offer empathy. In Donald Trump, the country is sorely lacking those things at a time when it most needs them. Someone needed to step in and give the country what Trump never could.
President Obama held a town hall on his website on Tuesday, addressing the nation in the midst of a pandemic, an economic depression, and a moment of great civil unrest across the country with the death of yet another unarmed black man.
Panelists at the town hall included activist, educator, and writer Brittany Packet Cunningham, city county representative from Minneapolis ward four Phillipe Cunningham, My Brother’s Keeper youth leader for the city of Columbus, OH Playon Patrick, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and president of Color of Change Rashad Robinson.
President Obama began his portion of the town hall by saying:
‘Although all of us are feeling pain, uncertainty, and disruption, some folks have been feeling it more than others. Most of all, the pain that’s been experienced by families of George and Breonna…and too many others that we paused to think about during the moment of silence. And to those families who have been directly affected by tragedy, please know that Michelle and I grieve with you.’
Obama acknowledged the protests as the result of a long history due to racial oppression, the “original sin of our society.” He also acknowledged, however, that these tragedies and the protests that have erupted from them have been an “incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying issues.” He urged protesters and those committed to the fight against racial injustice to “tackle them, take them on.”
President Obama assured viewers that he and his family are “committed to the fight” against racial injustice and offered words of hope for a hope-starved country.
‘When sometimes I feel despair, I just see what’s happening with young people all across the country, and the talent and the voice and the sophistication…it makes me feel optimistic.’
Obama had spoken out prior to his speech both on Twitter and on Instagram, as had former First Lady Michelle Obama.
My statement on the death of George Floyd: pic.twitter.com/Hg1k9JHT6R
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 29, 2020
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I want to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota. The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman. “Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.” Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling. The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s shared by me and millions of others. It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park. This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America. It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better. It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station – including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day – to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.
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Like so many of you, I’m pained by these recent tragedies. And I’m exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on. Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us. Artwork: @nikkolas_smith
President Obama’s website also includes a page with a call to action, offering easy to find resources where financial and personal help can be offered.
‘We work to help leaders change their world—and the world needs changing. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the loss of far too many Black lives to list, have left our nation anguished and outraged. While now is a time for grief and anger, it is also a time for resolve. Find resources below to learn what you can do to create a more just and equitable world.’
Featured image screenshot via video