A letter from Barack and Michelle Obama following the Parkland shooting has proven to be a powerful exposition about how the student survivors inspire them.
And the Obamas’ response to the Feb. 14 attack in turn has stirred the political activism of Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School students in a way that’s caught the attention of the nation.
The private letter to students dated March 10 was released to the public on March 21. The timing of its release comes just days before the March for Our Lives rallies are set to take place on March 24 around the nation.
“Not only have you supported and comforted each other, but you’ve helped awaken the conscience of the nation, and challenged decision-makers to make the safety of our children the country’s top priority,” they wrote.
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the letter @BarackObama and @MichelleObama wrote to the #ParklandShooting survivors. In it, the former president and first lady tell the teens that they’ve “inspired” them, and commend them on “awakening the conscience of our nation.” https://t.co/FOQYVguNFw pic.twitter.com/xEPHE6iUL2
— Mic (@mic) March 21, 2018
They didn’t shy away from reminding students how hard advocating for gun reform can be.
Most reactions to the Parkland students’ activism has been positive. But many have made attacks on their character and motivations, which is an understandably difficult thing for anyone — much less a teen — to endure. And perhaps more importantly, the students are becoming increasingly aware of just how difficult it is to move federal lawmakers into action, even when the overwhelming majority of voters are behind their cause.
The Obamas know that feeling all too well; the former president was unable to pass any meaningful gun violence reform while in office. “There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming,” they advised. “But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.”
Even though they’ve been out of the White House for more than a year, the Obamas are quietly continuing to play the role of “first family” in many situations.
Even most supporters of President Donald Trump would acknowledge that empathy is not his strongest suit. That has left the Obamas in an interesting place, where they occasionally find themselves unofficially playing the roles of comforters-in-chief.
They’ve clearly been very careful to not get in the way of Trump’s role as POTUS. But sometimes the nation just needs a collective hug or pat on the back, and that’s something both Michelle and Barack are exceptionally good at.
The Obamas’ letter is a necessary reminder that we should encourage students to use their voices.
Student activism has a long history in the United States, from opposing the Vietnam War to more recent causes like Black Lives Matter. You don’t even have to agree with the Parkland high schoolers’ cause to know it’s vital that we give our nation’s youth the time and space to find their respective voices.
As the Obamas wrote, “Throughout our history, young people like you have led the way in making America better.”
After all, the children (or in this case, teens) are literally our future. And a society of informed and engaged citizens is one that’s better for everyone.