Obama met Wednesday with community leaders around the country to discuss the year of protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder

By Sean Neumann
May 26, 2021 06:09 PM

Barack Obama on Wednesday told youth and community leaders from around the U.S. that their work this past year has given him hope of improving racial and social equality.

The former president, 59, spoke with the activists during a virtual forum through his My Brother's Keeper advocacy group, launched in 2014 with the mission "to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world."

Wednesday afternoon's virtual event featured panel discussions focused on ways communities can combat injustices. The forum was scheduled around the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder, which sparked global protests throughout 2020.

"We are here in part to commemorate the anniversary of one of the most heartbreaking and vivid reminders of the injustices that are occurring in this country every single day," Obama said during his opening address.

"When I saw the mobilization primarily led by young people over the last year, it gave me hope," he said. "What's given me even more hope is the way in which it wasn't a one-off, but that hope has now been translated into action."

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of Floyd's family at the White House on Tuesday and discussed the police reform legislation being considered by Congress.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama
| Credit: Lynne Sladky/AP/Shutterstock

During the forum, Obama participated in discussions with leaders around the country, including Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka and Alicia Garza, the founder of the Black Futures Lab.

Obama took questions and asked, himself, what he and other older leaders can do to help support youth leaders around the country.

Last year, Obama and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, regularly spoke out about the ongoing protests in the wake of Floyd's murder by the white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (Chauvin was found guilty last month of killing Floyd.)

Obama told PEOPLE last year that his daughters — Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22 — had also participated in the protests.

They felt "the need to participate," he said.

"They didn't do it in a way where they were looking for limelight," he said. "They were very much in organizer mode."

"I could not have been prouder of them," he added.

Obama marked the one-year anniversary of Floyd's death on Tuesday by crediting activists with changing the mindset on racial injustice around the U.S. and the world.The former president noted that since Floyd's death, "hundreds more Americans have died in encounters with police."

"But the last year has also given us reasons to hope," he said. "Today, more people in more places are seeing the world more clearly than they did a year ago. It's a tribute to all those who decided that this time would be different—and that they, in their own ways, would help make it different."

Obama said that "when injustice runs deep, progress takes time" and that "if we can turn words into action and action into meaningful reform, we will, in the words of James Baldwin, "cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it."

In her own statement this week, Mrs. Obama wrote on Twitter that she was "thinking ... of his daughter Gianna, and all the young people out there who have seen so much, but refuse to give up hope."

"All of us have a role to play to hold our leaders accountable and speak out about injustice. Let's make sure that 'Daddy changed the world' isn't a fleeting moment online, but a lasting change across the country," she wrote.

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