For too long, gerrymandering has contributed to stalled progress and warped our representative government. Redistricting begins next year—let’s all do our part to protect and restore our democracy. Join me and @allonthelinein the fight for fair maps: allontheline.org/citizen-commitment/
Today I’m tipping my hat to all the giants in the Negro Leagues, from Satchel Paige to Toni Stone and so many others. Their brave example, first set 100 years ago, changed America’s pastime for the better––opening it up for new generations of players and fans alike.
Five years ago today was a day I’ll never forget. After decades of protest, and organizing, and the determination of so many to never give up, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality a reality in America. As I made some comments in the Rose Garden, I looked at so many young members of my staff, and I noticed that they and all the people I saw on TV gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court shared the same expression on their faces: joy. Later that day, Michelle and I went to Charleston to remember the nine Black Americans who were murdered at Mother Emanuel church, and to reflect on the grace that community showed––and what it might mean if more of us found the courage to do the same. And as night fell at the White House, a spontaneous celebration popped up in Lafayette Park––a fitting end to a momentous week. It was a week of progress––of real reflection on the painful symbols of our past and continuing injustices today, in the battle for the right to health care, and in the struggle for full equality for every single American. A week of moments that should sustain us in our longer journey to make this country we love more perfect––and convince us that we can.
On this day in 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War, the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas finally received word that they were free at last. We don't have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate, and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world. Just as the enslaved people of Galveston knew that emancipation was only the first step toward true freedom, just as those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma knew their march was far from finished, or the protesters of today continue to fight for Black lives around the country––our work remains far from done. As long as people are treated differently based on nothing more than the color of their skin––we cannot honestly say that our country is living up to its highest ideals. And that awareness isn’t unpatriotic. In fact, it’s patriotic to believe that we can make America better. We’re strong enough to be self-critical. We’re strong enough to look upon our imperfections and strive, together, to make this country we love more perfect. Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. Instead, it's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible. So no matter our color or our creed, no matter where we come from or who we love, today is a day to find joy in the face of sorrow and to hold the ones we love a little closer. And tomorrow is a day to keep marching.
Today’s Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ Americans from workplace discrimination is an affirmation of our country’s founding promise of equality for all. I’m heartened to think of all those Americans who will no longer live in fear of being fired because of who they are and who they love. It’s a moment decades in the making, a reminder that progress can be slow—but it is always possible. And it’s validation for all those out there speaking out and marching so that our country’s founding promise might touch even more of our people. Happy Pride month, everybody.
As has always been true at key moments in history, it’s going to depend on young people to go out there and rewrite what is possible. So, as this year’s graduates prepare for the next stage of what I know will be a remarkable journey, I wanted to give them a few quick pieces of advice: First, do what you think is right, not just what’s convenient or what’s expected or what’s easy. While you have this time, think about the values that matter to you the most. Too many graduates who feel the pressure to immediately start running that race for success skip the step of asking themselves what’s really important. Second, listen to each other, respect each other, and use all that critical thinking you’ve developed from your education to help promote the truth. Finally, even if it all seems broken, have faith in our democracy. Participate—and vote. Don’t fall for the easy cynicism that says nothing can change—or that there’s only one way to bring about change. America has always made progress because young people dared to hope. Your generation is making sure that’s true of our present—and our future, too. I know you can do it—I couldn’t be prouder of all of you.
The young men and women of color in this country need to know something: you matter. Your lives matter. Your dreams matter. When I look at the faces of my daughters, and nephews, and nieces, I see limitless potential that deserves to flourish and thrive. You should be able to live a life of joy, and learn, and make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes without having to worry about what might happen when you walk to the store or go for a jog or drive down the street or look at some birds in a park. So even if you’re angry right now, I hope you’re channeling that anger toward action. Because you have the power to make things better. Look around at how many Americans want the same thing you do, with a sense of urgency that is as powerful and transformative as anything that I’ve seen in recent years. So even as we work to deliver justice for the lives of George, Breonna, Ahmaud, Tony, Sean, and countless others––we can all do our part to bring about change by protesting, voting, and asking for more from our elected officials. Join us at Obama.org, and let’s get to work.
I wrote out some thoughts on how to make this moment a real turning point to bring about real change––and pulled together some resources to help young activists sustain the momentum by channeling their energy into concrete action.
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.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who gave their all for us. That takes different forms this year, but it’s even more vital with the loss of so many veterans to COVID-19. The way they all lived, in service to one another, should be our roadmap in the months ahead.
Times of crisis can bring out the best in us, and Natalie Gao, a medical student in Boston, is a good example of that. Eager to help her community, she created @offtheirplate,a grassroots nonprofit organization that was formed at the beginning of March to support local restaurants and frontline healthcare workers. “Off Their Plate is about the human impact of the pandemic,” Natalie said. “We exist to support those on the dual frontlines of this unprecedented crisis—our healthcare workers healing the sick, and our restaurant workers fueling the fight.” This volunteer-led organization has expanded into nine cities and continues to provide economic support to restaurant workers while also delivering free meals to folks on the frontlines. Off Their Plate is making an impact not only for the healthcare workers they feed, but the restaurants they’ve helped support to stay in business during this time. It’s a terrific example of what we can do to show up for our communities.
I couldn’t be prouder of this year’s graduating high school seniors––as well as the teachers, coaches, and most of all, parents and family who’ve guided you along the way. Graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances––let alone during a pandemic. And some of you have had to overcome serious obstacles along the way to make it here. What remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood––the time when you begin to take charge of your own life. So here’s my quick advice: Be fearless. Always do what you think is right. And work to build a community. No one does big things all by themselves. When you need help, Michelle and I have made it the mission of the @ObamaFoundationto give young people like you the skills and support you need to be leaders—and to connect you with other young people around the globe. But you don’t need us to tell you what to do, because in so many ways, you’ve already shown us how it’s done. Congratulations, Class of 2020––keep making us proud.