In his first major address since the country went into lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, former US president Barack Obama‘s speech read like an indictment of Donald Trump‘s response to the global health crises. The 58-year-old delivered a commencement speech to graduates at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on May 16, and offered his words of wisdom. “More than anything, this pandemic has fully finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama said in a clip, which was streamed online as part of the “Show Me Your Walk H.B.C.U. Edition” virtual ceremony. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
He also emphasized the injustices faced by young black Americans like Ahmaud Arbery, who was recently shot while jogging in Georgia. “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,” he 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.”
In the speech, he also emphasized the unique power that recent graduates have in 2020. “No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world,” he said. “So rather than say, ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘What’s in it for my community and to heck with everyone else,’ stand up for and join up with everyone who’s struggling — whether immigrants, refugees, the rural poor, the LGBTQ community, low-income workers of every background, women who so often are subject to their own discrimination and burdens and not getting equal pay for equal work.”
He also added, “Look out for folks whether they are white or black or Asian or Latino or Native American. As Fannie Lou Hamer once said, ‘Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.’” You can watch the full commencement address above.