If you’re going to change the world, start with serving your community. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, lending a hand and listening to your neighbor will make you a better leader—and a better person. That’s why, as part of the @ObamaFoundation Leaders: Africa program, hundreds of regional leaders spent the day painting murals, gardening, and putting together gift packs for students in need at a local school in Johannesburg. These folks make me so proud.
In my farewell address in Chicago three years ago, I said something I still firmly believe today: Being a citizen is the most important job in our democracy. If you’re tired of politicians manipulating electoral maps and ignoring the will of voters, I hope you’ll exercise your power as a citizen by signing @allontheline’s Citizen Commitment today.
50 years ago, history was written at the Stonewall Inn when New York City’s LGBT community stood up, spoke out, and started a movement. In 2016, I was proud to designate it as our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. Stonewall reminds us the arc of our history is an arc of progress so long as we keep pushing for it.
Outside the Oval Office, I kept a painting of a small crowd huddled around a pocketwatch, waiting for the moment the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. On Juneteenth, we celebrate the anniversary of that news - freedom - reaching slaves in Texas. And something more: On Juneteenth, we celebrate our capacity to make real the promise of our founding, that thing inside each of us that says America is not yet finished, that compels all of us to fight for justice and equality until this country we love more closely aligns with our highest ideals.
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I'm thinking about all the young troops who faced down impossible odds that day – some of whom I actually got to meet on my own visits to Normandy. I’m also thinking about my grandfather. Though Gramps arrived at Omaha Beach weeks after D-Day, I remember how much I missed him during my visit five years ago – I wanted to have him right there with me, to hear his stories, to share the experience. But I was lucky to spend time with “Rock” Merritt who, as a younger man, saw a recruitment poster asking him if he was man enough to be a paratrooper — and signed up on the spot. All these years later, Rock is best-known not just for his exploits on D-Day, or for his decades in uniform, but for the time he’s spent speaking to the young men and women of today’s Army. Five years ago today, at Omaha Beach – democracy’s beachhead – I spoke about the debt we owe Rock and his fellow veterans who risked and gave their lives in defense of democracy.
On Friday, I had a chance to meet with some inspiring young leaders from around the world who were in Ottawa last week for the Open Government Partnership Global Summit. From Kyrgyzstan to Argentina, we're seeing a new generation taking the reins to empower others and harness new technologies for smarter, better government. It's inspiring—the kind of thing that will create a better world for all of us.
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)