President Barack Obama was invited to deliver the keynote speech at Howard University’s commencement address this weekend, and he stressed the importance of channeling anger and discontent into civic action and lobbying for reforms to ignite change. He also praised artists and activists like Shonda Rhimes, Beyonce and some of the university’s prominent alumni like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Zora Neale Hurston.
Obama stated that there were no black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and few black judges when Columbia University awarded him a bachelor’s degree in 1983.
“A lot of folks didn’t even think blacks had the tools to be a quarterback. When I was a graduate, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T. Rap and hip-hop were counter-culture. Now Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night and Beyonce runs the world. We’re producers, studio executives. We’re no longer small-business owners, we’re CEOs. We’re mayors, and representatives.” – President Obama
Recently, the black film and television community has indeed experienced advancement in Hollywood. In February Channing Dungey became the first African American President of a major network, ABC Studios. Ava DuVernay became the first African American woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Selma, and was also the first African American woman to ever win the Best Director Award at Sundance for her film Middle of Nowhere. Shonda Rhimes not only owns Thursday night but is also the first African-American woman to create and executive produce a Top 10 network series, Grey’s Anatomy.
“Due to our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life. We cannot be ignorant of history. We cannot meet the world with a sense of entitlement.”
“So make no mistake, Class of 2016. You’ve got plenty of work to do. As complicated and intractable as these challenges may see, the truth is your generation is better position than any before you to meet those challenges.” – President Obama
Obama is scheduled to speak May 15th at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and June 2nd at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO.
Watch Obama’s commencement speech in full in the video below.