Photo credit: Delaney Vandergrift, NCAT
Photo credit: Delaney Vandergrift, NCAT

“How you do it is less important than your commitment to use whatever platforms you have to speak to issues that matter…Get engaged, get involved, get educated and decide what you can do to make a difference.”

—President Obama at North Carolina A&T State University | ESPN, The Undefeated

On October 11, 2016, President Barack Obama made his way to Greensboro, N.C. to participate in a conversation led by Stan Verrett with ESPN and The Undefeated, hosted by a respected and renowned Historically Black College and University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

With his normal casually poised and smooth demeanor, the conversation began with a mention of the National Museum of African-American Culture that recently opened in Washington, D.C. and how it chronicles the evolution of the African diaspora in America. The significance in this as a starting point was the acknowledgment of what we have accomplished collectively and how the strength and humanity of perseverance lead what we’ve been able to accomplish. It also set the tone for the continuation of the conversation to follow.

When asked about his personal heroes, he referenced Arthur Ashe and the great and late Muhammad Ali, both with very distinct personalities, yet transformative in their own right. He also talked about the challenges faced by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, how their leadership through unfathomable situations shifts his perspective when there is this pressure to sustain and lead an entire nation. Just the same, he finds motivation in the everyday people, whom he’s been dedicated to serving during and before his term as president and making their lives better.

Photo credit: Delaney Vandergrift, NCAT

In terms of current challenges we face in America, our president touched on removing vanity from our personal goals and understanding that one’s place and purpose has so much to do with what we can do for others. As president of the United States for the past 8 years, he’s listened to the concerns of the people and taken those issues into account when deciding what needs to be done.

“One of the benefits of defeat is to take some of the vanity about what it is you’re trying to achieve…it’s not about me; it’s what I can do for someone else.”

Proceeding a student-athlete’s question regarding what can be done, he advised all of us to use whatever platforms we have to speak on things that matter. He used the My Brother’s Keeper initiative as an example of what can be done and encouraged mentorship as a way to get involved within our communities. This program, along with Let Girls Learn started by Michelle Obama, prioritizes the youth as the leaders of tomorrow. While discussing his experience growing up and that of inner city youth that are a part of these programs, he made a powerful statement:

“Understand the power in second chances and redemption.”

As it saddens many Americans to see the President’s reign come to an end with the upcoming election, there was an emphasis on the importance of social, political, and economic activism to continue to build upon the groundwork that has been established by both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. There is a responsibility that all of us have to maintain the positive aspects of his presidency and bridge the gaps on things that need to be changed. He spoke on the vitality of black excellence, how our work as individuals and as a community is: “…the foundation stone for building the kind of black middle class, wealth, and ultimate success that will be important to the entire nation.”

Photo credit: Delaney Vandergrift, NCAT
Photo credit: Delaney Vandergrift, NCAT

Last but not least, the topic of HBCU’s were presented. In contrast to what critics have to say about what hasn’t been done, President Obama addressed the many ways in which the historically black colleges and universities in this country thrive, including the increase in funding, the consistent effort put into maintaining these institutions, and their ability to produce the most qualified structure of alumni in an array of America’s leading industries.