I want to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota. The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman. “Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.” Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling. The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s shared by me and millions of others. It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park. This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America. It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better. It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station – including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day – to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.
Times of crisis can bring out the best in us, and Natalie Gao, a medical student in Boston, is a good example of that. Eager to help her community, she created @offtheirplate, a grassroots nonprofit organization that was formed at the beginning of March to support local restaurants and frontline healthcare workers. “Off Their Plate is about the human impact of the pandemic,” Natalie said. “We exist to support those on the dual frontlines of this unprecedented crisis—our healthcare workers healing the sick, and our restaurant workers fueling the fight.” This volunteer-led organization has expanded into nine cities and continues to provide economic support to restaurant workers while also delivering free meals to folks on the frontlines. Off Their Plate is making an impact not only for the healthcare workers they feed, but the restaurants they’ve helped support to stay in business during this time. It’s a terrific example of what we can do to show up for our communities.
I couldn’t be prouder of this year’s graduating high school seniors––as well as the teachers, coaches, and most of all, parents and family who’ve guided you along the way. Graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances––let alone during a pandemic. And some of you have had to overcome serious obstacles along the way to make it here. What remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood––the time when you begin to take charge of your own life. So here’s my quick advice: Be fearless. Always do what you think is right. And work to build a community. No one does big things all by themselves. When you need help, Michelle and I have made it the mission of the @ObamaFoundation to give young people like you the skills and support you need to be leaders—and to connect you with other young people around the globe. But you don’t need us to tell you what to do, because in so many ways, you’ve already shown us how it’s done. Congratulations, Class of 2020––keep making us proud.
Our public libraries are essential institutions––and that’s why we’re bringing a new branch of the @chicagopubliclibrary to the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side. Michelle and I want to do our part to give all you parents a break today, so we’re reading “The Word Collector.” It’s a fun book that vividly illustrates the transformative power of words––and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Even if you can’t give the moms in your life a hug today, I hope you can give them an extra thank you today. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who makes it all possible. Love you, @michelleobama.
Our medical professionals continue to put their lives on the line to make sure we’re able to get through this moment. And we’re so grateful for all that they’re doing to keep us safe. Today, I’ll be sharing the story of a physician on the frontlines, Dr. Sherene Fakhran. Dr. Fakhran specializes in pulmonary and critical care and has been working at @cookcountyhealth Hospital in Chicago for the last ten years. These last few months have been difficult, but she credits the efforts of the entire hospital - the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, custodians, and support staff - for doing their part to keep the hospital going to tend to COVID-19 patients in critical need. Dr. Fakhran shares more about her experience while working in the intensive care unit at Cook County Health: “A big part of what we do in the ICU is to communicate and build a relationship with the patients and families. Speaking with families has become more challenging. We also try to facilitate video calls with patients and families to help them feel connected or at times say goodbye. Although, I have been working with critically ill patients for many years, this experience has been very emotional.” “What gives me the most hope is how people have come together to support in whatever way they can––from bringing in food to making PPE for our staff. All the providers in our division have also done an outstanding job staying positive, supporting each other, and rising up to the challenge. Most importantly, seeing some of our sickest patients recover and actually go home has been the best feeling of all.”
There’s no limit to the devotion I’ve seen in teachers like these educators from @ChiPubSchools. Their dedication shapes the best parts of who we become. I couldn’t be more thankful for their work, especially as they shift lessons online to keep students on track during this crisis.
Just a little over a year ago around Thanksgiving, I got to spend some time with the Greater Chicago @fooddepository. Even in the relatively good times, I know how difficult their work is—and how dedicated they are to making sure no one in our hometown goes hungry. In this crisis, they’ve seen a huge increase in demand for their services, and become even more of a lifeline to Chicago families in need. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they continue their work. It’s selflessness like theirs that keeps kids from going hungry, and makes the world a better place.