There is no question that as an African American there is something magical about knowing that a black man was President of the United States during your lifetime. When I was a kid, I would have never imagined that even being a possibility. After all, my father grew up during segregation.
Whether one agrees with the political decisions of President Barack Obama or not, one can not deny that in a country built on racism and oppression seeing a black man rise to hold the highest position of authority in the country (arguably the world) was a game-changer for black youth. No longer did they, like me and all black kids before me, live in a world where a black President was an impossibility. No longer did they live in a world where they had to be shackled by the binds that racism can put on their ability to fully utilize their human potential. Here was a man that had overcome it and now we all knew definitively that it could be done.
Although several societal obstacles remain that impede black youth, one of the biggest obstacles, the lack of hope, would suffer a tremendous blow due to the powerful symbolism of Obama’s presidency. However, knowing that racism could be overcome and that anything is possible doesn’t instantly equate to knowing how to overcome it.
Despite his tenure as President having ended, Barak Obama still stands as a symbol of hope for not only black youth in America but for people all around the world. Thankfully, he has decided to use his platform to create leadership opportunities for youth who often come from circumstances where they could be easily overlooked.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear President Barak Obama speak at Salesforce’s Dreamforce Conference. He was his usual charismatic erudite self and the room loved him. Beyond the power of President Obama ‘s persona was the power of his words. During his fireside chat with Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, President Obama discussed leadership, what it means and why it’s important to cultivate it in others, particularly young people. He gave candid insights into his own journey and how people gave him opportunities to grow and advance in his life and why it’s incumbent on us to do the same for others.
President Obama spoke a great deal about how we often overlook the potential in others because they don’t have the right look, the right title, don’t come from the right place, or have the right education. He reminded us how detrimental our assumptions can be to securing great talent, actually impeding our own ability to achieve our goals.
President Obama told funny anecdotes about times when he looked to congressional staffers for insights because he knew they were actually the ones putting in the work and he wanted them to know their insights mattered. He spoke about the fact that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, namely Dr. Martin Luther King, were in their twenties during the time and reminded us that some of the greatest social changes in our history were spearheaded by young people.
Discussing the young leadership of the Civil Rights Movement served as the perfect segue into the other main topic the President addressed during his chat, discrimination. He reiterated his earlier point that we can’t afford to keep closing the door on people who might have something substantial to contribute but this time with a greater emphasis on racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.
Specifically, he spoke about the work of the Obama Foundation and the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which ” leads a national call to action to build safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color where they feel valued and have clear paths to opportunity. ” He openly discussed how far too often young black men are ignored and because of this aren’t able to become the leaders they are capable of becoming.
“I have always believed that the single most important task we have as a nation is to make sure our young people can go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them. It is the single most important thing we can do for our country’s future. And we’ve got to do it together.~ President Barak Obama
As the mother of a black son, who often comes home from school complaining about feeling as if his views aren’t respected and as though he isn’t seen as intelligent as his white counterparts, I was very moved by this. It’s sad that in 2019, despite the powerful symbol of hope that Obama is, there is still so much left to be done. Our children, all of our children, need to have their self-esteem and their intellect nurtured. They need to have their potential cultivated. They need to be pushed into positive directions and they need to be given opportunities that allow their strengths to shine.
We believe that every young person deserves the opportunity to achieve their dreams, regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status.~My Brother’s Keeper
I have to admit that I felt a great deal of pride listening to President Obama speak. For my son, my brothers, and countless other boys of color in the world he is diligently working to ensure they aren’t ignored, that they are allowed to grow into leaders with the potential to create a better world for us all.
His message was tremendously inspiring but, more importantly, it was a call to us all to go out and be mindful that we aren’t closing doors for others. It was a reminder that everyone has something to offer to this world if they so desire, and it is up to us to empower them to do so anyway that we can. He charged us to drop our assumptions and to remember that “talent is everywhere and it doesn’t always look like you’d expect.”