More than any other first lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama continues to stand above those who would attempt to distort her leadership. First lady Obama’s recent commencement address at the Tuskegee University in Alabama exemplified her courage to speak truth to the world without fear of repercussions.
Michelle Obama’s resilient optimism is refreshing as well as sobering. I am certain the class of 2015 at Tuskegee will always remember the strong and poignant words of wisdom that they were given during their graduation ceremonies. But we all can learn from her timely remarks.
We live today in an increased atmosphere of racial polarization in America since the election and re-election of President Barack Obama. We, therefore, should welcome public utterances that transcend the prevalent negativity surrounding any attempt to address the question of race in the United States.
Michele Obama is perfectly qualified and strategically positioned to use her leadership in a constructive manner to advance the interests of Black America and all those who struggle and cry out for freedom, justice and equality. As a talented Harvard Law School graduate, devoted mother, and loyal spouse to the president, the first lady has risen to become one of the most admired persons in the world.
The first lady eloquently stated, “But here’s the thing–our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win. It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together, then we can build ourselves and our communities up. We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together – together – we can overcome anything that stands in our way.”
In other words, we should strive to avoid complacency and the cynicism of hopelessness. The history and the centuries-old legacy of African people in America and throughout the world proves our ability to overcome the hardships of oppression and injustice. It was also good to hear Obama call for Black American unity and “banding together.”
Our families and communities across the nation are certainly in critical need of greater unity and collective resolve to stand up together to provide leadership and direction in particular for our youth and young emerging leaders. We cannot afford to permit the evolution of an historical generation of young people who have not been given the truth of our history nor given the encouragement that they need to excel and make their mark on history today.
In fact, over the next weeks, we will witness numerous graduation ceremonies in particular at other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The good news is that thousands of Black American college graduates from HBCUs and from other institutions of higher learning will be pushing forward to demand greater access to wealth-building careers with the intent on giving more back to the communities from which they have emerged. Like the first lady, I am optimistic about the future to the extent to which we continue to stand up to injustice while at the same time pressing forth to economically empower our families and communities.
Education and empowerment are both goals that must be attained and each generation has to rise to the occasion with persistence and focus. There will be setbacks and sometimes disappointments in everyone’s life. Yet, the enduring lesson from Obama’s magnificent address was that when those life challenges happen, do not let your problems or critics define who you are. We have to have faith in our own capacity to rebound and to stand for truth even when it might not be the popular or politically expedient.
We are a resilient people. We resist oppression. We are against inequality and injustice. We stand for liberation and freedom for ourselves and for all people. The more we stand together, the more we make progress. We are grateful that in our lifetime we are privilege to witness how the first lady epitomizes what it means to be a freedom fighter with courage and grace, but most of all, with a glowing resilience that motivates and inspires others to excel.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).