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President Barack Obama traveled to Atlanta Sunday and delivered a rare yet impassioned speech at Morehouse College about race and the evolution of black men in America.

It was arguably one of the most significant speeches of Obama’s presidency.

“For black men in the 1940s and 1950s, the threat of violence, the constant humiliations, large and small, the gnawing doubts born of a Jim Crow culture that told you every day you were somehow inferior, the temptation to shrink from the world, to accept your place, to avoid risks, to be afraid, was necessarily strong,” Obama told a cheering crowd of about 10,000 during his commencement address at Morehouse, an all-male historically black college.

“There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves,” Obama said.  “There are some things, as Morehouse Men, that you are obliged to do for those still left behind,” the president said. “As graduates – as Morehouse Men – you now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you are about to collect.  And that’s the power of your example.”

Obama’s address to 500 black male graduates was his most direct public speech about the experiences of black men during his second term in the White House and one of his most straight-forward lectures about race since he took office.

“As Morehouse Men,” Obama said, “many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; to be marginalized; to feel the sting of discrimination.”

But, the president said, “We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself.  And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.”

For some of Obama’s black supporters, it was the speech that many have been waiting for. Even some of the president’s most loyal followers – including some black congressional leaders — have been critical of Obama for not speaking out more about race and talking more about being a role model for black men as America’s first black president.

But on Sunday, it appeared that Obama was clearly in role-model mode for black men.

“If we’re being honest with ourselves, too few of our brothers and sisters have the opportunities you’ve had here at Morehouse,” Obama said.  “In troubled neighborhoods all across the country – many of them heavily African American – too few of our citizens have role models to guide them.”

Obama also shared a bit more of his personal side, telling students that he’s made some ill-advised decisions early in life, but didn’t use it as a crutch to prevent him from moving forward.

“One of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses,” Obama said.  “I understand that there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”

“We’ve got no time for excuses – not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t,” the president added. “Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there.”

But not everyone was accepting of Obama’s speech. Paul Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University, said Obama’s address didn’t go far enough and that Obama should have told Morehouse students that he’s “sorry” for not doing more for black men.

Still, Obama has been focusing on a myriad of challenges facing young black men as he begins his second term in the White House.  Earlier this year, Obama traveled to the South Side of Chicago  and spoke to 16 black male students who are growing up poor, troubled, and some without fathers in their lives.

The students, who attend Hyde Park Academy High School, are part of an anti-youth violence program called “Becoming A Man” (B.A.M.) that teaches at-risk students about violence prevention, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression and respect for women.

“This is very personal for him because he didn’t have a father,” Jarrett said of the president during a one-hour session at the White House with six African American journalists in February.  “He was raised by a single mom so he knows the challenges.”

“I think he takes his role as a mentor very seriously and he leads by example,” said Jarrett, perhaps the president’s most trusted White House confidant.

Meanwhile, at Morehouse College on Sunday, Obama urged students to be responsible black men.

“Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man,” the president said. “Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important.”

“I know that when I’m on my deathbed someday, I won’t be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted; I won’t be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received,” Obama said. “I’ll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters. A lazy afternoon with my wife. Whether I did right by all of them.”

(Photo: AP)

Celebs Representing HBCUs
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22 thoughts on “ANALYSIS: Obama to Morehouse Men: Don’t Let the World ‘Keep a Black Man Down’

  1. Vikafo Stash on said:

    What has he done for you lately? He is not black, he “mixed.” He calls himself an American. Wake up black people. Could the white man have done you worse? Are your children working? Are you working? Do you live as well as he does? Do you eat everyday? Do you have a BETTER place to live? Do you have a BETTER job? Do you have MORE money in the bank?

    We are praying on Sunday, “Lord please bless Barack Obama and his family.” Look at his history prior to becoming President. How many blacks were on his Senate staff? How many blacks had key positions in his campaign? How many blacks hold number one positions in his administration?

    What are we thinking well thinkers?

  2. Gaywrites on said:

    The President or “POTUS” hadn’t mentioned any of this when you all were trying to get the Oprah Winphery[sic] party elected had he T.J.M.S.!? So as it seems Newt Gingrich was right after all wasn’t he?

  3. demp109 on said:

    The photo of all of these young black men graduating from college is quite a “Kodak” moment!! It was simply beautiful!!!

  4. Blacks struggle all over the world… not only in the U.S. Even the Japanese rebuilt their country bigger and better after America bombed the heck out of them. The Jews bounced back after the holocaust. Blacks lack intellect, plain and simple. I don’t know why, there are a few who stand out, but overall, blacks are less intelligent than the rest.

    • 55th st silverbacks on said:


    • Candy : “less intelligent than the rest” of who??!! What an insult!! Perhaps you are not intelligent if you think there aren’s very many intelligent black people. Are there a bunch of dumb A’s? Of course there are in ALL ethnic groups. But there are also millions of very intelligent black people. You need to get out more, and broaden the scope of black people you come in contact with.

  5. And by the way Paul; have you asked the NAACP, CBC, and other so-called black organizations, and the LOCAL black politicians, and officials in IN EVERY CITY in America to apologize for not doing enough for black men. In fact some of the forementioned haven’t done anything for black men. It starts with the locally elected politicians. Were all of the naysayers speaking out on this issue before Obama became President??!! I think not!!

  6. Paul Butler needs to shut the H up. Until Paul has become President, and had to deal with the zillions of things going on in this country, and the world…..he needs to take a seat. And did Paul really say the President needs to apologize to black men??!! Clearly Paul has no clue. To me it sounds like Paul doesn’t have common sense. In short President Obama is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t try to do/say something.

  7. Cherie on said:

    Wildflower I AGREE!!!!!! This is one of those situations where they say “If you don’t have anything nice to say; don’t say it at all.”

  8. See this is our problem, people like Paul Butler. This was a very special moment for these young men and instead of keeping this push positive Mr. Butler felt the need to criticize instead of encourage. What he needs to do is lose that crab mentality and support his sister’s and brothers in a positive way and when he feels the need to point out someone elses short comings ask himself first what has he done to promote progress in his community.

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