The Obama’s Address Black Graduates

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Three Wise Men: A Great Moment

 Stressing the Virtues of Education and Family

Both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama chose to give commencement addresses at historically black colleges.  The President spoke at Morehouse College and the First Lady addressed the graduates at Bowie State University.  Presidents and First Ladies are bombarded with requests to speak at commencements and the selection of historically black colleges and the messages conveyed dramatizes the symbolic significance of having a black family in the White House.

In Michele Obama’s commencement address to the Bowie graduates, she was critical of a certain aspect of black culture that is anti-intellectual.  The First Lady mentioned that the notion of a black child with a book was behaving white and was counter-productive.  She encouraged the graduates to struggle against that kind of negativity and stressed how vital it was for a higher percentage of members of the black community to be attending college.

President Obama in his Morehouse address highlighted the need to break the cycle of broken families.  He mentioned that even though his mother as a single parent was heroic and his maternal grandparents paid an important role in his upbringing, he regretted the absence of a father in his life.  The President of the United States revealingly stated that on his death bed, he would not be thinking about the legislation that was passed during his presidency but the quiet moments that he spent with his wife and his two daughters.

Barack and his Beloved Girls!
barack_obama
A Quintessential Family Man

There is an unquestionable thirst in the black community for higher education.  Prior to the democratization of higher education in America around the 1970s, the black historical colleges like Bowie, Morehouse, Spelman, Howard and Fisk played the predominant role in giving African-Americans access to higher education.  During those years, Caribbean students benefited from the existence of these black historical colleges.  Institutions like Howard University were instrumental in providing Caribbean scholars, like Eric Williams, the necessary education that made them into historical trail-blazing figures.

Our brilliant First Lady

imagesCA5C1MGT Telling the truth and inspiring the youths

The First Lady is correct that a greater number of African-Americans need to attend college but despite the rising cost of higher education those numbers have been growing.  For students graduating with associate degrees in 1999-2000, there were 60,221 and by 2009 to 2010, that figure increased to 113,905 which amounted to 10.9 percent of the associate degrees conferred in that year.

For the four year degree, from 1999 to 2000, 108,013 African-Americans completed the course and from 2009 to 2010, that figure was 164,844.  That latter figure amounted to 9.0 percent of the bachelors degree conferred during that period.  From the vantage point of gender from 1999 to 2000, 69.6 percent of the degrees conferred were females and from 2009 to2010 that percentage was 60.7 percent.

Traditionally, black enrollment on the graduate level tends to fall off precipitously but that has changed.  In the 1999-2000 period, 36,696 master’s degrees were conferred on African-Americans.   By 2009 to 2010, there was remarkable growth as 76,468 master’s degrees were conferred amounting to 12.5 percent of the distribution.  Again, one sees the potency of the black female that from a gender perspective in the latter years, 71.1 percent of master’s degrees were conferred on black women.

Julius Nyerere was fond of stating in respect to the Third World and the First World “While they walk, we must run”.  In the world of higher education, black men are not marking time but black women are outpacing them.

The President and the First Lady were stressing the importance of higher education as its acquisition has become nigh indispensable in competing in the increasingly competitive labor market.  The American economy has become more high-tech and low-tech jobs are either disappearing or do not pay a living wage to raise a family.

The Bureau of Labor statistics provides us with the data that correlates education to weekly income and to unemployment.  The higher the level of education, the less likely that an individual will be unemployed; the unemployment rate for a high school drop-out is 12.4 percent and average weekly wage is $471.00.  For a high school graduate, the rate of unemployment is above the average at 8.3 percent.  A college graduate had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent and aweekly earnings of $1,066.00.  With education the chances of a worker earning a living wage is greatly enhanced.

Neither the President nor the First Lady addressed the troubling issue of stagnation of wages and the severe problem of inequality.  The graduates have been exhorted to further humanize American society. If Bowie and Morehouse educated their graduates properly, they will know the “civil rights” struggle of their generation is to put the Genie of inequality back into the bottle so more Americans, educated or uneducated, can achieve the American dream.

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Dr. Basil Wilson

Queens, New York

June 1, 2o13

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