Obama's Howard Speech Hailed as 'One for the Ages'

Activism is more than hashtags, he told graduates
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2016 4:44 AM CDT
Updated May 10, 2016 6:51 AM CDT
Obama Howard Speech Hailed as 'One for the Ages'
President Obama gives his commencement address to the 2016 graduating class of Howard University in Washington on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Obama's commencement address at Howard University on Saturday is still reverberating, with some ranking it among the best speeches he has ever delivered. Black Lives Matter activists are among those praising Obama, who spoke about being "comfortable in your blackness" and of the importance of compromise and bringing about change through the political system, the Guardian reports. "To bring about structural change, lasting change, awareness is not enough," Obama said. "It requires changes in law, changes in custom." More:

  • Activist April Reign, originator of the #oscarssowhite hashtag, says that while they may disagree a little on tactics, she was pleased he wasn't holding back. "Now that he's got his second-term swag on, he's able to let loose a little bit," she says. "I think he hit a lot of the right marks and I think it's one for the ages."

  • Obama—who told the crowd that now is the best time in history to be "young, gifted, and black"—also praised Black Lives Matter activist Britanny Packnett for joining the White House's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. If she had "refused to participate out of some sense of ideological purity," he said, "then those great ideas would have just remained ideas. But she did participate. And that's how change happens."
  • This was one of the best—and blackest—speeches of Obama's career, writes Mathew Rodriguez at Mic, who praises the way Obama encouraged graduates to be black any way that they wanted to be, "to embrace their own style and sexuality like the late musician Prince," and reminded them "that their blackness gives them unique insight into the struggle against inequality and racial injustice."
  • In what Janell Ross at the Washington Post calls the most interesting line of the speech, Obama told the audience to expand their "moral imagination" to identify not just with struggling black folks, but with refugees, transgender people and "the middle-aged white guy who you may think has all the advantages but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change and feels powerless to stop it." Ross sees this as either a call for disaffected white men to join a new political coalition—or concern about the "tangle of fear, anxiety, and anger" gripping many voters this year.
(Read more President Obama stories.)

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