“If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” he added.
During his message to the HBCU graduates, Obama also spoke of how the pandemic has disproportionately affected black communities.
“A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities,” he said during the “Show Me Your Walk” virtual commencement program.
Obama, who was a former civil rights lawyer and community organizer before he ran for political office, also gave three pieces of advice for the graduating class to “create change.”
“No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world,” Obama said.
He encouraged the HBCU graduates to organize at the grassroots level (and not just resort to online activism), to grow allies in the fight for a common cause, and remember “you’re all role models now, whether you like it or not.”
“Your participation in this democracy, your courage to stand up for what’s right, your willingness to forge coalitions, these actions will speak volumes,” he said. “And if you’re inactive, that will also speak volumes.”
CNN’s Nicky Robertson contributed to this report.