The former president tells BET in a new interview that "there's too much left to do" in the push for social justice

By Sean Neumann
April 23, 2021 12:28 PM
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Barack Obama
Barack Obama
| Credit: Lynne Sladky/AP/Shutterstock

Barack Obama is encouraging Black Americans to "keep marching, keep speaking up, keep voting" in an effort to push for greater social change.

"This is an incredibly tough time for a lot of folks," Obama, 59, tells BET in a new interview Thursday. "You've got communities all across the country, many of them Black and Brown, that were struggling long before the pandemic."

Then, pointing out that COVID-19 "impacts members of those communities at a higher rate," Obama says, "all of a sudden, you're adding grief and fear on top of all the other emotions folks were already feeling."

The former president's new interview comes after a jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd last year. Floyd's murder sparked global protests against racial injustice and police brutality last year.

Obama, who became the first Black president in U.S. history when he was elected in 2008, has regularly delivered emotional remarks in the wake of police killings while calling for change.

While Obama had said Tuesday the jury "did the right thing," and his successor, President Joe Biden, hailed the decision as a "step forward," the former president also encouraged Americans to not stop their calls for social justice.

"If we're being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial," Obama wrote in his statement, adding, "We cannot rest."

Barack Obama
Barack Obama
| Credit: ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty

In his new interview with BET, Obama echoes his calls for young Americans to avoid complacency and "cynicism" about the status quo.

"The people who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism," Obama says. "They know they can't win you over with their policies, so they're hoping to convince you that your vote, and your voice, doesn't matter. That's how they win."

The Promised Land author adds: "And if you think it's too hard to bring about change today, remember that those who came before us had it a whole lot harder."

"They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth," Obama continues. "And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work."

Throughout the interview, Obama calls for Congress to pass the For the People Act, which is designed to increase voter access and thwart controversial state voting laws like Georgia's recent election bill, which sparked outrage among Democrats and progressives last month.

Obama says "so many Americans have followed in those footsteps over the last four years," referencing former President Donald Trump's administration. 

In order to continue social progress, the former president says Americans also "cannot let up during these next four." 

"There's too much left to do," he says.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.