Barack Obama called on young black people to be “warriors for justice” and commented on the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery during a special speech he gave to 2020 HBCU graduates over the weekend.
The former president was the guest speaker in a virtual commencement ceremony for students of historically black colleges and universities that was broadcast by HBCU connect and Chase on Facebook and Youtube.
In his remarks, Obama highlighted racial injustices that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and encouraged the black graduates to not only activate online but also in real life—including by voting:
“A disease like this just spotlights the underlying equalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country,” Obama said.
“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 and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.”
“You’ve got more roadmaps, more role models, more resources than the civil rights generation did. You’ve got more tools, technology, and talents than my generation did. No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world,” Obama added.
The livestreamed event was hosted by comedian Kevin Hart and featured congratulatory messages for HBCU graduates from prominent figures like Steve Harvey, Melody Hobson, Debbie Allen, and Shaun Robinson.
The former president will also give a commencement speech for 2020 graduates as part of the Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 event scheduled to be simulcast at 8 p.m. on Saturday May 16. Celebrities like Simone Biles, Cardi B, and Oprah Winfrey have also recorded messages of celebration for the class of 2020.
“Even though there may not be pomp because of our circumstances, never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion and energy and hope,” Winfrey said.