By Mara Schiavocampo, NBC News correspondent
Yesterday President Obama gave a well received speech to Parliament in Ghana's capital city of Accra. The message, intended for all of Africa, was a simple one: responsibility. "Africa's future is up to Africans," he said. The President acknowledged Africa's difficult past, but said the time for looking backwards was over. Enough excuses. Get your act together. It was a tough love message, but easily digestible coming from a man who is so beloved and respected in this part of the world.
Though the speech was directed at Africa, I saw a larger audience: African Americans. I don't think the message was intended for them, but I think it's relevant nonetheless. Like Africa, black Americans have had a tumultuous history, starting with hundreds of years of slavery followed by decades of oppression. The effects are plainly seen when you look at any number of statistical indicators; 70% of black children are born to single parents, African Americans have among the highest incarceration rates in the nation, and on and on. So much of this can be attributed to opportunities denied, and the social and cultural effects of centuries of oppression and poverty. But as Obama told Africa, the time for looking backwards is over. If anyone has proven that, it's Obama himself.
If Barack Obama wanted to make excuses for himself, he had plenty to choose from: no father, frequent moves, struggling with racial identity, and as he has said, having a funny name. Yet Obama has led a remarkably accomplished life, never allowing what he lacked to interfere with what he wanted. Like Africans, black Americns can look at Obama as an inspiration and motivation to strive for more out of life, despite the very real obstacles the community faces.
Obama isn't the only person African Americans can draw inspiration from. We need only look at our ancestors for more. While I was in Ghana this week I visited a slave castle and saw the deplorable conditions Africans were held in before being shipped to the Americas. They stayed in dungeons for up to three months, and then spent another three months in the cargo hold of the ships. It's estimated that half died en route. One of the things that struck me was the idea that those who survived such unimagineable horror were the absolute fittest of the fit, mentally and physically. Our ancestors were strong and resilient. They didn't only survive, they thrived. So many African Americans throughout history are a testament to that fact. African Americans can look to those who came before us, in addition to Obama, as an inspiration to perservere in the face of struggle. Enough excuses.