What messages did President Barrack Obama share with the men of Morehouse?

Posted by Ronald | May 27, 2013  |  No Comment

It was a rainy day on Sunday, May 19 when our 44th President of the United States Barrack Obama gave the commencement address at Morehouse College. Despite the bad weather, Obama said this was one of his greatest moments to address the gathering of people for a commencement ceremony, and that he would be in the audience with everyone getting wet; however, the secret service would get very nervous; so his spirit was with everyone. While there are less African-American men in college than prison which represent 70 percent of the total population, the critical question to be asked is: What messages did President Barrack Obama share with the men of Morehouse? An excerpt of Obama’s commencement address at Morehouse College follows:

Now graduates, I am humbled to stand here with all of you as an honorary Morehouse Man. I finally made it. I’m mindful of an old saying, “You can always tell a Morehouse Man, but you can’t tell him much.” And that makes my task a little more difficult, I suppose. But I think it also reflects the sense of pride that’s always been part of this school’s tradition. Benjamin Mays, who served as the president of Morehouse for almost 30 years, understood that tradition better than anybody. He said, “It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates, but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private life, men who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting those ills.”

It was that mission, not just to educate men, but to cultivate good men, strong men, upright men that brought community leaders together just two years after the end of the Civil War. They assembled a list of 37 men, free blacks and freed slaves who would make up the first prospective class of what later became Morehouse College. Most of those first students had a desire to become teachers and preachers to better themselves so they could help others do the same. Dr. King was just 15 years old when he enrolled here at Morehouse. He was an unknown, undersized, unassuming young freshman who lived at home with his parents, and I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t the coolest kid on campus. For the suits he wore, his classmates called him “Tweed.” But his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect, discipline, compassion and soul force that would transform America. It was here that he was introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience. It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be. And it was here at Morehouse as Dr. King later wrote, where “I realized that nobody…was afraid.”

I know that some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself. Maybe you feel like you escaped, and now you can take your degree and get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car and never look back. And don’t get me wrong with all those student loans you’ve had to take out, I know you’ve got to earn some money. With doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could not even imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty, but I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.

So, go get that law degree. If you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and the powerful or if you can also find some time to defend the powerless. Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business. We need black businesses out there. But ask yourselves what broader purpose your business might serve in putting people to work or transforming a neighborhood. The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out with the intent to just to make money; rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed. Some of you may be headed to medical school to become doctors, but make sure you heal folks in underserved communities who really need it too. For generations, certain groups in this country especially African-Americans have been desperate in need of access to quality and affordable health care. Just as Morehouse has taught you to expect more of yourselves, inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.

You now hail from a lineage and legacy of immeasurably strong men. Men who bore tremendous burdens and still laid the stones for the path on which we now walk. You wear the mantle of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ralph Bunche, Langston Hughes, George Washington Carver, Ralph Abernathy, Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These men were many things to many people, and they knew full well the role that racism played in their lives; but when it came to their own accomplishments and sense of purpose, they had no time for excuses; and I promise you, what was needed in Dr. Mays’ time, that spirit of excellence, hard work, dedication and no excuses is needed now more than ever. If you think you can just get over in this economy just because you have a Morehouse degree, you’re in for a rude awakening. But if you stay hungry, if you keep hustling, if you keep on your grind and get other folks to do the same, nobody can stop you.

So be a good role model and set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have; they need to hear from you. You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court and at church. Spend time, energy and presence to give people opportunities and a chance. Pull them up, expose them and support their dreams. Don’t put them down. We’ve got to teach them just like what we have to learn; what it means to be a man and to serve your city like Maynard Jackson and to shape the culture like Spike Lee. I will tell you, Class of 2013, whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs. Instead, it has been due to that sense of connection and empathy. The special obligation I felt as a Black man like you to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had. Because of the grace of God, I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family, and that motivates me.

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table; that everybody, no matter what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is, it doesn’t matter; everybody gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough.

When Leland Shelton was four years old, social services took him away from his mama, put him in the care of his grandparents. By age 14, he was in the foster care system. Three years after that, Leland enrolled in Morehouse, and today he is graduating Phi Beta Kappa on his way to Harvard Law School. But he’s not stopping there. As a member of the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council, he plans to use his law degree to make sure kids like him don’t fall through the cracks. And it won’t matter whether they’re black, brown, white or Native American kids, because he’ll understand what they’re going through. And he’ll be fighting for them. He’ll be in their corner. That’s leadership. That’s a Morehouse Man right there.

That’s what we’ve come to expect from you, Morehouse, a legacy of leaders not just in our black community, but for the entire American community. To recognize the burdens you carry with you, but to resist the temptation to use them as excuses. To transform the way we think about manhood, and set higher standards for ourselves and for others. To be successful, but also to understand that each of us has responsibilities not just to ourselves, but to one another and to future generations: Men who refuse to be afraid.

Members of the Class of 2013, you are heirs to a great legacy. You have within you that same courage and that same strength, the same resolve as the men who came before you. That’s what being Morehouse Man is all about. That’s what being an American is all about. Success may not come quickly or easily. But if you strive to do what’s right, if you work harder and dream bigger, if you set an example in your own lives and do your part to help meet the challenges of our time, then I’m confident that, together, we will continue the never-ending task of perfecting our union.

Congratulations, Class of 2013. God bless you. God bless Morehouse, and God bless the United States of America.

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of three books, “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education” and “How to Eradicate Hazing.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is the national superintendent of education for the National Save the Family Now Movement, Inc., a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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