LOS ANGELES — Former President Barack Obama offered young black people a message of hope June 3.
“I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter,” he told a livestream roundtable via Zoom as part of his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.
The former president was joined by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, President of Color of Change Rashad Robinson, Minneapolis City Council member Phillipe Cunningham, and My Brother’s Keeper youth leader Playon Patrick in a conversation moderated by Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham on “Reimaging Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Brutality.”
“You should be able to learn and make mistakes and live a life of joy without having to worry about what’s going to happen when you walk to the store or go for a jog or are driving down the street or are looking at some birds in a park,” he told the youth who were tuned in.
He said that leaders from the local level on up the presidency need ti be held accountable. He called for leaders to review his 21st Century Policing Taskforce Report and commit to implementing a reform plan of action in their communities.
Robinson, head of the Color of Change, added “sometimes we have to change the laws and sometimes we have to change the people who implement those laws.”
Obama said that mayors and county executives, who appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions, hold the power to set new standards for how police interact with their local communities. District attorneys and state attorneys general, who hold elected positions, can also decide whether to investigate and charge police officers accused of misconduct, he said.
Speaking of the death of George Floyd May 25 in Minneapolis and the national response to that death, Obama said many communities have endured pain during these times and countless people have lost their lives.
“But, this country was founded on protests and these will usher in a new era of change and reform,” he said.
“In some ways, as tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain they have been, they have been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends,” Obama said.
“As activists and everyday citizens raise their voices, we need to be clear about where change is going to happen and how we can bring about that change,” he added.
He compared the young people demonstrating in the streets in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement since Floyd’s death to other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X.
“You have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that’s got to change,” Obama said. “You’ve communicated a sense of urgency. That is as powerful and as transformative as anything that I’ve seen in recent years.
“The world is watching and everyone has to keep working and stay hopeful because this is a marathon, not a sprint,” he added.