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2008 Fall Issue 7 (November 7, 2008)

Barack Obama visited Carleton in 1999 as a convocation speaker

November 7, 2008
By Shuchi Anand

Barack Obama was a convocation speaker in Feburary 1999. This was the article that ran following his visit.

Barack Obama, an Illinois state Senator, civil rights attorney, University of Chicago professor and author, commenced the celebration of Black History Month at convocation Feb. 5. Obama encouraged the audience to become engaged in public affairs and involved in the community during the coming month.

As a politician, Obama said that he encounters such discouragement in his work since people are often content to “mind their own business.”

“A concept like Black History Month or any celebration of minorties…[is] initially valuable as an education tool,” Obama remarked. “It exposes, amplifies and affirms the identity of the minority culture…I think it would be wonderful to incorporate into those celebrations some form of action.”

He continued by speaking directly to the needs of the Carleton community.

“I think that one of the dangers of being a minority at a relatively privileged institution like Carleton is that you have all the trappings of ethnicity without any of the obligation,” Obama said. “You have been separated somewhat from the day-to-day lives of people in the streets. So, I would strongly urge any college group that’s designing these kinds of programs to think about incorporating an action component to them.”

Obama pointed out that community service does not need to be radical in order to be effective.

“It doesn’t have to be a protest,” he explained. “But it can be as simple as, ‘As part of Black History Month, we’re going to go research the current conditions of welfare recipients in the community.’ And we will have done that by first finding out what the community wants to do, as opposed to telling them what to do, and then becoming their partners in the celebration.”

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