Obama to Black Americans: 'Keep marching, keep speaking up, keep voting'
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Former President Obama encouraged Black Americans to "keep marching, keep speaking up, keep voting" as the country continues to protest against racial injustice and police brutality and as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disproportionally impact minority communities.

In an interview with BET.com published Thursday, Obama acknowledged that it is tough to feel optimistic following the events of 2020.

“You’ve got communities all across the country, many of them Black and brown, that were struggling long before the pandemic,” Obama said. “Then a virus comes along that impacts members of those communities at a higher rate, and all of a sudden, you’re adding grief and fear on top of all the other emotions folks were already feeling.”

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Police violence and “other reminders of the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment” can make anyone wonder “if things will ever get better,” the former president said.

But Obama noted that those who benefit from the status quo are counting on “cynicism.”

“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,” Obama continued. “And that’s why we need to keep marching, keep speaking up, keep voting. 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. If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans.”

As COVID-19 killed approximately 375,000 Americans in 2020, the country faced a cultural reckoning following the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The death of the unarmed Black man in police custody triggered international protests calling for criminal justice reform and an end to systemic racism.

Video of Floyd’s death was captured on camera by bystander Darnella Frazier and millions watched as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.

On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three of the criminal counts that he was facing — second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder.

Obama told BET.com that a 22-year-old version of himself would have reacted the same way that many young people did: “With anger, sadness, and the conviction that America has to be better than this. And like them, I also would have looked for a way to make a difference."

The "A Promised Land" author encouraged people to continue "making your voice heard” because protesting is often the “only way to get people’s attention.”

"But eventually, movements have to be translated into laws and policies — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands," he said. "In this case, we need to elect state and local officials who will make fighting systemic racism and guaranteeing equal justice a priority. We need to pass ballot initiatives and other measures that will do the same. And we also need to bring community groups, elected officials, and police departments together to make real change."

"In other words," Obama continued, "I think anyone who believes in change should reject the false choice between participating in protests or politics. We need both."

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The former president and his wife, former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaJill Biden, Kate Middleton to meet this week Jill Biden to focus on military families on foreign trip Book claims Trump believed Democrats would replace Biden with Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama in 2020 election MORE, applauded the jury for doing the “right thing” but said that true justice “requires much more.” 

“For almost a year, George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer has reverberated around the world — inspiring murals and marches, sparking conversations in living rooms and new legislation,” the Obamas said in a joint statement after Chauvin’s trial. “But a more basic question has always remained: would justice be done?” 

“In this case, at least, we have our answer. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial,” they said.