Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s easy, on a day like this, to reflect at something of a distance. The photos are grainy now, dusty artifacts from another era. It was a different world then, we can tell ourselves—another place, another time. Fully grappling with the reality of the Holocaust, though, isn’t so simple. Because before the camps and the brownshirts, before the consolidation of political power, before millions of lives were extinguished, there were simply people, not altogether different from any of us, who chose to see their neighbors as different, as other, as something less. It’s a sadly familiar choice, one that we’ve seen generation after generation. And today, in our world of encroaching division and calcifying bubbles, we’ve seen once again the swiftness with which that choice—that failure to recognize ourselves in one another—can accelerate into violence. So it’s up to us to make a different choice—to choose empathy over apathy; to sow seeds of hope rather than hate; to embrace our shared humanity, no matter how we worship, what we look like, who we love, or where our families came from. That’s how we can not only pause to remember a tragedy once a year, but act on the lessons we’ve learned from it every day.
Today, we welcome the next 20 civic leaders as @ObamaFoundation Fellows. In every region of the world, these folks are already leading the way—instilling hope in disadvantaged communities, championing restorative justice, even growing food in the desert. Congratulations to the new class of Fellows. I'm excited to see the connections they'll make—and the lives they'll change. Obama.org/fellowship
One hundred years ago, Nelson Mandela was born, and 25 years ago, his country held its first democratic elections. It was a true honor to mark these anniversaries by sitting with his wife, Graça Machel, to discuss Mandela's legacy of justice, opportunity, and peace—and the call for all of us to carry it on, especially young people like Lesley Williams, one of our @ObamaFoundation African Leaders. As we confront division, discrimination, inequality in our own time—challenges too big for one person and too complex for one simple solution—it's easy to get discouraged. I find that it's best then, as it often is, to remind ourselves of the words of a political prisoner who rose to lead a nation and inspire the world. Because as he said: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Back in 2008, I joined a few staffers for an impromptu Passover Seder on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania — Manischewitz, matzo, and all — and we kept it going during my time in the White House. It was a chance to pause, to connect around a shared meal, and to tell the Exodus story, which reminds us of faith’s triumph over oppression and calls on us to stand with those still yearning for freedom and opportunity today. I hope everyone gathering for a Seder tonight has a blessed and meaningful Passover.
No matter what country we’re in, connecting young people with more tools, more resources, more attention, and maybe a little bit of inspiration is the best investment we can make in the future. And when these young people work together and learn from each other, their work will change the world. That’s what I saw in the hundreds of young leaders from across Europe and it’s what the @ObamaFoundation is all about.
Valerie is one of my oldest friends and a lifelong advisor – she was by my side when I first decided to run for office and for every major moment of the presidency. I’ve always been proud of Valerie and her extraordinary work to advocate for women, improve the lives of working families, and promote equality for all — but more than the policies she helped shape, I am proud of how she did the work. While Valerie was discovering her own sense of belonging, she was out there making sure other women knew they also deserved to be heard. “Finding My Voice” offers a rare look inside the presidency and a window into the life of a public servant who is dedicated to improving the lives of others. @ValerieBJarrett’s voice has often inspired me and I know her memoir will inspire others to lift their voices, too.
This was back in 2011, when I was visiting the tiny town of Moneygall, the place where my great-great-great grandfather, a shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, lived his early life. I marveled as I walked around on the same old floorboards that he did, then I had the privilege to address the people of Ireland on College Green. For me, this photo pretty much sums up their joyful spirit; a warmth and generosity that stay with me to this day. Happy St. Patrick's Day—on this day, it’ll always be O’Bama.
Michelle and I send condolences and strength to the people of New Zealand. We grieve with you and with the Muslim community. Every single one of us, every color, every creed, has a daily responsibility to rally against hate and bigotry in all their forms and to stand up for what is good, and decent, and true.
“As a phrase, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ continues to keep me focused—especially when I lose hope or get weary. When I repeat it to myself, I’m reminded of all the young people whose lives I might have impacted and those who I have yet to impact. It reinvigorates me, causes me to get up, and reminds me that the work isn’t over yet. I am My Brother’s Keeper. “My hope for all boys and young men of color is peace. I hope for a brighter future where these young men won’t be fearful of applying for a job or chasing an opportunity because of their skin color. Too often I hear my peers talk about how they have to go about things a certain way or there are certain jobs they simply cannot do. “I just want to grow. I want to expand. MBKRising gives us a chance to come together as a community and have the conversations that can only come from a diversity of perspectives. I am only one person with one set of experiences. There’s a limit to what I know. The only way I’ll be able to grow and learn is to interact with the community of leaders who are working hard to help boys and young men of color like me achieve their dreams. That’s when we all learn.” —Jerron Hawkins, 21, participant at MBKRising, Washington D.C. (3/3)
“My friends and I started a program to mentor students at the elementary school next door. We helped each other keep the good work going. When I got to Howard I hit the ground running—joining student organizations, getting an internship at the White House during the Obama administration, and becoming a mentee as part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, where I had the chance to meet President Obama, ask him for advice, and share what was going on in my life. “Since beginning my mentorship program five years ago, I’ve found a passion for combating disparities and inequalities I see. My mission is to change the world one community at a time. I recently founded my own nonprofit to help out other college students, providing scholarships and highlighting the achievement and impact of minority students across the U.S. ” —Jerron Hawkins, 21, participant at MBKRising, Washington D.C. (2/3)
Meet Jerron Hawkins. He’s a young man I got to know when he was a White House mentee in 2014, and he’s one of the hundreds of people coming to Oakland this week for MBK Rising!, a nationwide gathering of community members and partners that represent the My Brother’s Keeper movement. We’re bringing these groups together to celebrate five years of progress on behalf of boys and young men of color—and to set our sights on the road ahead. Since we started My Brother’s Keeper five years ago, one of the things we’ve seen consistently is the power of mentoring as a tool to help young people address the challenges they face and see the opportunities in front of them. Mentoring just works. Today, I’m turning my Instagram account over to Jerron to tell you a little about his experience with mentorship. His story shows us what’s possible when we invest in our young people and show them we believe in their promise. It’s the kind of story we should hear more often—the kind we’ll hear a lot of in Oakland this week. It’s the kind story that gives me hope. “At the beginning of high school, I felt like I wasn’t operating with purpose. I wasn’t helping anyone. I was selected to be a member of my principal’s student leadership team and I thought ‘Why me? I don’t see myself like this.’ But in senior year, I found AMATE—African American Males Aspiring to Excel—a mentoring program for young men of color. What was so powerful to me about the group was the vulnerability. As guys, we were used to not talking about our problems. We bottled it all up and called it pride. So to be in this group of young men, sharing their feelings and being vulnerable with each other, was life-changing for me.”—Jerron Hawkins, 21, participant at MBKRising, Washington D.C. (1/3)
Five years ago, I launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative calling on all Americans to take action on behalf our nation’s boys and young men of color. It was a call to make sure every child felt valued, safe, and supported by their community—a call to help these young men in particular see hope and opportunity in their future. We’ve come a long way in those five years. Today, as part of the @ObamaFoundation, the @MBK_Alliance consists of nearly 250 communities working to break down barriers that too often leave boys and young men of color at a disadvantage. And tomorrow in Oakland, I’ll join the My Brother’s Keeper community to mark the progress we’ve made and chart the course ahead at a celebration we’re calling MBK Rising! In the lead-up to the event, and in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share a nonfiction reading list that can help to provide some essential context about the challenges that many people of color face every day. From modern memoirs to cornerstones of the American narrative, these works can help us better understand our country’s past and our evolving, persistent struggles with race—and they can be fuel on our journey toward a more fair and just future for all of our sons and daughters. They certainly are for me. I hope you’ll take some time to read some of these books, letters, and articles. And tomorrow, I hope you’ll follow along with MBK Rising! at Obama.org/mbka. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson A Stone of Hope: A Memoir by Jim St. Germain with Jon Sternfeld The Upshot from The New York Times: Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin The Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
As a bridge between the East and West, Hawaiʻi is a part of the fabric of both the U.S. and the broader Asia-Pacific region. It’s a place of tremendous diversity and global potential. It’s also the place I call home. This weekend, I had the opportunity to sit down in Hawaiʻi with 21 exceptional emerging leaders from the Asia-Pacific, designing an @ObamaFoundation program that will convene hundreds of changemakers from the region so that they can come together to support each other, share ideas, and solve the greatest challenges they face. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.
As 2018 draws to a close, I’m continuing a favorite tradition of mine and sharing my year-end lists. It gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the year through the books, movies, and music that I found most thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved. It also gives me a chance to highlight talented authors, artists, and storytellers – some who are household names and others who you may not have heard of before. Swipe through to see my best of 2018 list – I hope you enjoy reading, watching, and listening.
There’s no better time than the holiday season to give back to your community and spread some holiday cheer. Yesterday I got to do just that at Children’s National Hospital in DC. As we celebrate the season and look forward to the New Year, let’s recommit to doing our part to build a world that is a little more generous, tolerant, and kind. Video: @ObamaFoundation
No jump shots. No ferns. No memes. Not this time. I’m going to give it to you straight: If you need health insurance for 2019, the deadline to get covered is December 15. Head to HealthCare.gov today. Most people can find a plan for less than the price of a monthly cell phone bill. Go to HealthCare.gov and pass this on — you just might save a life.
I am grateful for the next generation of leaders who are doing the work to create the world as it should be. Our young people—tolerant, creative, idealistic—remind us that the best way to honor our communities is to serve them. They understand that hope requires action. From the Obama family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.