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Last Sunday, President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Morehouse College. This marks the second time that Obama is delivering an address at an Historically Black College and University.
Obama spoke movingly about the power of setting examples – particularly in identifying and correcting the injustices within the world. He charged the graduating class to connect maximizing career opportunities while serving their respective communities: to practice law that defends the rich and powerful but also the powerless; to practice medicine and provide healing in well-served and underserved areas; and to run small business that create personal wealth while brings jobs to the economy and great products/services to the nation at large.
In speaking at the distinguished male-only college, the President situated himself within the legacy of luminaries: Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche, Spike Lee, and Thurgood Marshall, and of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
With the facility of expression for which he is celebrated, President Obama used his life story – as well as the narratives of Drs. Benjamin E. Mays and Martin Luther King – to challenge the class of 2013 to exemplify excellence within their careers, communities, and families. If Morehouse Men could succeed during 1940’s and 1950’s, then so can you. If a skinny kid with a funny name can grow up to become President of the United States, then upward mobility is a dream within the reach of all black men. We’ve heard the refrains before, of course, but Obama delivered them with a noted vigor and vibrancy.
Still, President Obama delivered a rather safe speech – avoiding mention of what is often called the New Jim Crow; skipping over the massive loss of wealth among black families due to the Great Recession and mortgage crisis; and minimizing the role of structural discrimination within American labor markets by emphasizing the dog-eat-dog nature of a globalized labor market. A safe speech, but a strong one just the same. As the saying goes. You can tell a Morehouse Man – even an honorary one – but you can’t tell him much.