“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou
Last week, ESPN hosted a town hall with President Obama to have a conversation about race, sports, and achievement, the stated mission of ESPN’s recently launched platform, The Undefeated. Sadly, it wasn’t widely consumed. In this political season, the people we need to engage in this discussion are in their corners, sounding off in their echo chambers, getting more polarized. I’m sure ESPN and the President knew this but it represents a shift in Obama’s focus towards solutions and healing.
The setting of this town hall, North Carolina A&T, is a Historic Black College & University (HBCU) with deep roots breaking through racial barriers. Many people feel race relations in the country have taken a turn for the worse in recent years. The President knows more than anyone that it’s hard to change the mind of people stuck in their ways. Students are different. Students crave solutions. Maybe the vitriol getting all the media attention this political season can be turned positive. Young people recognize when adults are acting crazy. Sometimes fierce debates in an election can lead to swift changes, culturally. We get it all out, then young, ambitious people do things to create change.
So where do we start? We continue building on programs like the White House’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK). According to the White House website, “MBK is about obliterating the barriers our kids face. It’s about building strong, lasting bridges to opportunity for boys and girls, young men and young women, no matter what their background or the circumstances into which they were born.” It is very important to the President. Over two years ago, when the idea was gestating, the President asked his staff what could be done that was affirmative. They launched a platform for adult mentors to connect with kids from disadvantaged communities and show them a new path. Here’s how to be a man or woman. It’s working. A young North Carolina A&T student activist said, “Me and my friends had nothing to turn to. We didn’t believe in government. We didn’t believe in second chances. MBK gave me that opportunity.”
What makes humans so special is our ability to organize and coexist. We have achieved SO much in our brief time on this planet. Imagine what we could do if we overcame petty differences like what we perceive as race. MBK is one example. If you don’t like the President or don’t believe in programs from the Federal Government, you can still get involved. There are local initiatives to connect people who care with kids who need help in every community. The President reminded us, “Young people of color are the workers of our future. It’s all dependent on them. If we can close the achievement gap that means trillions of dollars added to the economy. This is not a people of color challenge. It’s an American challenge. This is how the nation will thrive.”
Let’s get out there and show kids from all backgrounds you are fundamentally good and we are ready to help you succeed. Build a bridge.