President Obama's NAACP Speech and What It Says for The Larger Goal of Equality

In what I can only describe as an historic speech f0r not only African-Americans, but America as a whole, President Obama delivered the keynote speech at the 100th NAACP Convention this past Thursday in New York City. While his speech was ubiquitously black in its message and approach, there was major universality in his message.

In much of his speech President Obama described the ills of racism and segregation that have plagued the African-American community for generations. But in a shift that no U.S. President before him has done, he described the "structural inequalities" that affect so many.
"make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."
Very seldom have we seen a President, whether Republican or Democrat, describe what so many in marginalized communities know to be true. Here was the most powerful man in America giving voice to the voiceless that toil everyday, merely wishing that someone can understand where they are coming from.

Obama connected the Civil Rights Movement and education in a way that was quite impressive. Looking at the history of the Movement, it is clear that much of its origins and ultimate success stemmed from creating equal educational institutions. It is from this drive for educational equality arose new avenues whereby advocates of the Civil Rights Movement aimed to address. President Obama summed this up beautifully:
"There's a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools. There's a reason Thurgood Marshall took up the cause of Linda Brown. There's a reason the Little Rock Nine defied a governor and a mob. It's because there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child's God-given potential."
The most important aspect of Obama's speech was his call for everyone to take responsibility for their success, and for parents to take responsibility for the success of their children.
"We have to say to our children, Yes, if you're African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not. But that's not a reason to get bad grades, that's not a reason to cut class, that's not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands - and don't you forget that. To parents, we can't tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities."

I believe that these words will be the lasting legacy of President Obama's speech. The larger question is what does his speech mean for the larger legacy of equality in America? I believe the answer is abundantly clear. President Obama being the first black president of the United States had a platform that no black person has ever had. This allowed him to speak in such a blunt manner that his words could not help but be taken with sincerity and seriousness not only to the black community, but to the larger country at hand. While some may read and listen to his speech and see the clear connection and outreach to the black community, the idea of educational reform and personal and community responsibility rings true in every hamlet of this great nation. The NAACP was founded on the principles of equality for all. And there we had our first non-white president delivering a speech that reached across all racial lines to make a point that needed to be made.

I believe that Obama's concluding remarks are of utmost importance and are the true rallying cry for a new generation to adhere to:

"If John Lewis could brave Billy clubs to cross a bridge, then I know young people today can do their part to lift up our communities. If Emmet Till's uncle Mose Wright could summon the courage to testify against the men who killed his nephew, I know we can be better fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters in our own families. If three civil rights workers in Mississippi - black and white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred - could lay down their lives in freedom's cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time. We can fix our schools, heal our sick, and rescue our youth from violence and despair. One hundred years from now...let it be said that this generation did its part; that we too ran the race; that full of the faith that our dark past has taught us, full of the hope that the present has brought us, we faced, in our own lives and all across this nation, the rising sun of a new day begun."

Mr. President, I could have said it no better.


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