Obama Town Hall Address Brings Calm Leadership To A Turbulent Time
In the wake of widespread civil unrest in the United States in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd — an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis — perhaps the main element missing in the country has been calm, measured leadership. And, once again, Barack Obama has stepped up to fill the void.
On June 3, the former U.S. president took part in a livestreamed town hall, hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program launched by the Obama Foundation in 2014 after the police killing of Trayvon Martin. In this volatile time of massive protests against racism and injustice, Obama choose to speak to today’s youth in order to give them hope, perspective and a sense of belonging in a country that seems to be tearing itself apart through anger and violence.
“I want to speak directly to the young men and women of colour in this country, who have witnessed too much violence and too much death, and too often, some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting you,” said Obama. “I want you to know that you matter, that your lives matter, that your dreams matter. You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful and as transformative as anything I’ve seen in recent years.”
Obama’s comforting words were in stark contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threatening comments made earlier in the week, where he warned he may deploy the U.S. military against protestors. These threats were widely scorned by top U.S. military officials. Trump then threw further gas upon the flames by having police disrupt a peaceful protest across the street from the White House, so he could walk across the street for a staged and insensitive photo-op, where he waved a bible outside an Episcopal church.
While staying mostly on the sidelines during the turbulent three-and-a-half years since he left the Oval Office, this town hall was yet another signal in recent months that the former president will continue to be an active participant in the 2020 election year in the United States. He recently endorsed his former Vice-President, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and Obama has also spoken publicly about COVID-19 and America’s response to the pandemic and its impact on people of colour — and he did so again.
Obama noted that the pandemic “has exposed the vulnerabilities of our health-care system, but also the disparate treatment, and as a consequence, the disparate impact that exists in our health-care system — the unequalled investment, the biases that have led to a disproportionate number of infections and loss of life in communities of colour.”
But his most powerful words from the town hall remained directed toward youth — and his support of them: “There is a change in mindset that’s taking place a direct result of the activities and organization and mobilization of so many young people across the country, who put themselves out on the line to make a difference,” said Obama. “I just have to say, ‘Thank you’ to them for helping to bring about this moment.”
Like he has done so many times in the past, Obama’s participation in the town hall demonstrated yet again that leadership, action and words still matter.