Former President Barack Obama called out racial disparities in the United States during a virtual commencement speech Saturday to graduates of historically black colleges and universities.
At the end of the two-hour streaming event for graduating seniors, Obama said the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the nation’s inequalities.
“You’re being asked to find your way in the world, in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession,” the former president noted. “The timing is not ideal, and let’s be honest, a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country.”
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In cities across the nation, African-American communities have been hard hit by the virus.
“We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop, question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit,” Obama added, referring to the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia on Feb. 23.
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Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested two months after the shooting amid public outcry, and charged with murder and aggravated assault. The two men are white, while Arbery was black. The suspects told local authorities they were frustrated by previous burglaries and auto break-ins in the neighborhood.
“Injustice like this isn’t new,” Obama said about Arbery’s death. “What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing.”
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The former president also criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama stated without mentioning Trump’s name. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
Obama urged the HBCU graduates to give back to their communities. “If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” he said.
His speech came during the “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition” event. The ceremony was hosted by Kevin Hart, and presented by Chase in partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the National Association for Equal Opportunity, the NBA, Paul Quinn College, Howard University and JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways Initiative.
Others taking part included Common, Steve Harvey, Debbie Allen, Doug E. Fresh, Mellody Hobson, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a Howard University graduate.
You can watch the full “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition” event below.