Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Citizenship

President Obama delivers an emotional eulogy with lessons for a better tomorrow

Last week, US President Obama delivered an emotional eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney of the Mother Emanuel AME Church. The Reverend was killed at his church on June 17th, when a white gunman fatally shot nine members of the congregation in Charleston, South Carolina. The accused shooter has confirmed it was a racially motivated attack. You can see the full eulogy at the top of this piece.

During the eulogy, the president characterized the Reverend as a gracious leader and a determined state Senator- a “good man”. He also attempted to make sense of the massacre, suggesting that it was part of a greater plan to bring about change in Charleston and the US.  Obama noted that Americans were reacting “not merely with revulsion at [the] evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.” Hopefully, these words brought some peace to those who lost family members and friends at Mother Emanuel.

In addition to honoring the Reverend and the eight “members of his flock”, the president took the opportunity to reflect on how the tragedy might propel the US forward be shedding light on issues like poverty, education, and injustice. I was moved by what he said, especially because much of it was applicable outside of this isolated incident. The president eloquently stated,

“For too long, we've been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we're doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system -- and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realize it, so that we're guarding against not just racial slurs, but we're also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what's necessary to make opportunity real for every American -- by doing that, we express God's grace.”

The president recognized that individual policies would not be enough to prevent an event like this from happening again. And he acknowledged that a national conversation about race relations might not do it either. But he stressed that both were important in changing the US for the better- that moving on without action, was not an option.

The president remarked,

“it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual -- that's what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change -- that's how we lose our way again.”

It’s this last line that resonated with me most. After horrific events like the earthquakes in Nepal, or the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, many people feel impassioned to do something. But where are we years down the line, when the people of Nepal remain displaced from their homes, and the health systems in West Africa remain broken? This is what I believe the president was getting at.

On Global Citizen, people around the world are empowered to take action around extreme poverty. But is that enough? I would argue no, and I believe the president would agree with me. Taking action online, donating to worthy cause, and submitting our vote during an election are all significant steps that deserve recognition. But alone, they’re not enough. To truly affect change, we must follow up on the causes that matter to us- and see them through to the end by continuing to speak out on their behalf. That is how we create lasting change.