My ears perked up and a smile crept across my face as I heard the familiar voice.
Even though I’ve never met him, listening to his words felt like coming home.
Barack Obama is back. The South-Side’s hero has returned, and he has something to say.
“What’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” the former president charmingly asked. After the laughter and applause, it was clear.
The University of Chicago’s event entitled ” A Conversation on Community Organizing and Civic Engagement” was the former president’s first appearance since leaving the Oval Office. True to his style, he got right to the point:
“The single most important thing I can do,” Obama said, “is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”
Obama clarified that he still cares about problems like economic inequality and climate change. He is still concerned about our skewed justice system and violence issues. Yet he proclaimed that the politics in Washington and our civic engagement in them (or lack thereof) have prevented the country from making more progress confronting those problems.
In his words, all of these issues are “not insoluble.” But Americans must change their habits. We must better prepare ourselves to engage meaningfully.
These words were music to my ears. After an election tearing voters apart between two unpopular candidates, America’s young people, including my own children, are concerned and motivated to jump into the pool of politics.
But it is a vast, choppy sea. Preparation will be paramount for this civic voyage into the future.
Our media has become ideologically isolated, curated for specific target audiences. As a result, we’ve raised our children on broadcasts and articles that agree with and confirm our own values. People are, in Obama’s words, “further and further enforcing their own realities to the neglect of a common reality that allows us to have a healthy debate and then find common ground and actually move solutions forward.”
So how can we help young Americans prepare for informed political engagement in a world full of biased (and sometimes misleading) media?
>> We need to learn to disagree agreeably. It’s okay to disagree. But we should also always be critical when listening to discussions and debates to determine where the truth lies.
>> We need to be mindful and aware of where our news comes from. Check out this helpful infographic from Vanessa Otero:
I made this chart about news sources: pic.twitter.com/qdUWz4StAb
— Vanessa Otero (@vlotero) December 13, 2016
We then need to choose to inform ourselves and our children with reporting from reputable sources.
>> Remember President Obama’s advice from his final speech as president of the United States:
“If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.” ~ Barack Obama
It’s time to lace up with double knots, kids.
“Worry less about what you want to be,” he told the youth in Chicago, “and worry more about what you are going to do.”
Welcome home, Mr. Obama. Thank you for bringing back optimism, hope, and inspiration to our airwaves. Your words were a bipartisan blessing to my ears.
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Author: Kate Fleming
Editor: Callie Rushton