Obama tells young people of colour 'you matter' amid George Floyd protests

Barack Obama has urged young Americans to use tragedy to finally bring about real change following the death of George Floyd.

The former president admitted the last few weeks had been ‘difficult and scary and uncertain’ as he addressed the nation in a virtual town hall speech on Wednesday.

However, he insisted he was feeling ‘hopeful’ as widespread protests against systemic racism had offered ‘an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to inequality and injustice’.

Although many people may feel angry, they have ‘the power to make things better’, the father-of-two said.

He said: ‘I want to speak directly to the young men and women of colour in this country. I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter.

‘I see some limitless potential and you should be able to learn and make mistakes. … I hope that you also feel hopeful even though you might feel angry. You have the power to make things better …. you’ve communicated a sense of energy.’

Mr Obama told young activists to ‘make people in power uncomfortable’, as he called on every US mayor to review use-of-force policies and make progress on police reforms.

He said: ‘I’ve been hearing a little bit of chatter… voting vs. protest. Politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.

‘This is not an either or. This is a both and. To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented.’

He added: ‘As tragic as these last few weeks have been. As difficult and scary and uncertain as they have been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends.

‘They offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals. 

‘Part of what’s made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanised and activated and motivated and mobilised, because historically so much of the progress that we’ve made in our society has been because of young people.’

His comments came during a virtual town hall hosted today by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation.

The speech was the first time the former leader has addressed Mr Floyd’s death on camera.

He previously threw his support behind peaceful activists in an online essay that said any violent protests were ‘detracting from the cause’.

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