This weekend, former President Barack Obama gave a heartfelt speech to the HBCU graduates of 2020. And while he mainly focused on imparting encouraging words to the students who are now forced to enter an unstable economy, he also used the occasion to address the glaring disparities facing the African-American community.

“The timing is not ideal,” Obama tells the HBCU graduates about graduating during the current pandemic. “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.”

In addition to talking about the disproportionately affected by the health outbreak ravaging the country, Obama went on to tell HBCU graduates that inequalities can also be found in the stories that have dominated our news cycle, like that of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

“We see it when a Black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning,” Obama says. “Injustice like this isn’t new.”

On this point, he compliments the HBCU graduates for waking up to the fact that “the status quo needs fixing, that the old ways of doing things don’t work.” And he acknowledges them for understanding that regardless of the amount of money they may make, our society as a whole isn’t operating sufficiently if we aren’t all able to prosper.

Barack Obama tells HBCU graduates that stories like Ahmaud Arbery's are not new. Here his mother and sister grieve.
BRUNSWICK, GA – MAY 9: Jasmine Arbery, sister of Ahmaud Arbery (right), and Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud’s mother, comfort one another while people gather to honor Ahmaud at Sidney Lanier Park on May 9, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery was shot and killed while jogging in the nearby Satilla Shores neighborhood on February 23. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

“If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” Obama declared. “Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn. Nobody can tell you anymore, ‘This is how it’s always been done.’ More than ever, this is your moment—your generation’s world to shape.”

The HBCU Commencement was broadcasted on ESSENCE Studios. HBCU alums Terrence J, Will Packer and Senator Kamala Harris, among others, also offered words of wisdom to the aspiring professionals.

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