An invitation to the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, to be the baccalaureate speaker May 18 at his alma mater, Morehouse College, has been rescinded.
Johnson was informed of the decision by Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. in an April 15 phone call from Atlanta.
According to a press release from Citizens for Change — a group of prominent Morehouse graduates — Wilson’s decision was based on concerns Johnson expressed in an op-ed article that appeared in The Tribune on April 14. In the commentary, Johnson voiced displeasure about President Barack Obama’s lack of Black appointees in his cabinet.
The release said Wilson felt the article was “untimely” given that Obama is scheduled to be the 2013 commencement speaker on May 19.
On April 15 and April 16, which the release added coincided with the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Wilson contacted Johnson and encouraged him to resign as the speaker. Johnson rebuffed Wilson’s suggestion.
Wilson, according to the release, then approached Johnson with a compromise. He proposed that Johnson agree to being one of three speakers for the event. Johnson refused, citing that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker, and all initial representations made to him.
Reached Saturday via e-mail, Johnson said, “What has made Morehouse such a premier institution is its commitment to critical thinking, free thought, and free speech. Morehouse teaches her students not to accept the status quo, but to ask the critical ‘why’ and then do something about it, just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Julian Bond, and others did, to uplift African-American people.
“This is a defining moment for Morehouse,” he added. “The Morehouse brand is that she has a 146-year history of producing men who are progressive leaders, critical thinkers, committed to changing the world. I am deeply rooted in this tradition and will continue to devote my life to Morehouse and her ideals.”
On April 17, Johnson sent Wilson a letter insisting the college president honor his original invitation. Wilson then replaced Johnson with three new baccalaureate speakers — the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and a graduating senior.
According to the release, the college posted Warnock and Moss’ names as speakers on its website on April 23 but removed them on April 25 after Warnock and Moss withdrew their names.
However on its website Saturday, the school listed Warnock, Moss and the Rev. Reginald Wayne Sharpe Jr., a member of the class of 2013, as speakers.
Johnson said he is prepared to speak at the event.
“If my beloved alma mater honors its initial commitment to the 2013 Baccalaureate speaker, I will attend and deliver the message God has already given me: ‘Morehouse Men Are Called to be Eagles,’” he said via e-mail.
In the release, Johnson said, “I have always been and continue to be a supporter of President Obama. The issue is not about the article in question, but about Morehouse’s longstanding history and pedagogy of free thought and free speech. Without free thought and free speech, Morehouse would not have produced our most admired alumnus, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Several noted Morehouse College almuni are members of Citizens for Change.
“Kevin is not just a Morehouse man,” said the Rev. Calvin Butts, senior pastor of The Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, president of SUNY Old Westbury, and a member of the group. In the release Butts said, “he is a stellar example of the college’s rich tradition of producing outstanding leaders in this century who are well-educated, forward-thinking, community-conscious, and global citizens.”
The alumni group wants Wilson to reaffirm and honor his invitation to Johnson.
“If President Wilson turns his back on one of our most distinguished alums because of an exercise of free speech and political commentary, he will have set Morehouse on a dangerous course and departed from the great tradition bequeathed to us,” said the Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, senior pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco in the release. “In 1947, Dr. King warned that, ‘If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!’ We are potentially witnessing the realization of King’s greatest fears.”
Wilson was unavailable for comment.
What started out as a respectful article critical of the lack of qualified African-American appointees in President Barack Obama’s cabinet and a perceived lack of policies specifically designed to help America’s poor is turning out to be a war of words between the pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church and the president of Morehouse College.
Maybe it was all just a misunderstanding, or an incorrect interpretation about what was or wasn’t said - but Bright Hope Baptist Church’s pastor, Kevin R. Johnson, in a letter dated April 17, 2003, lashed out at John S. Wilson, president of Morehouse College about his disappointment that he was being indirectly asked to remove himself as the 2013 Baccalaureate speaker because of an op-ed piece that was highly critical of the policies and cabinet appointments of President Barack Obama.
The president will be speaking during Morehouse’s upcoming 129th commencement ceremonies that will be held on May 19, 2013. Johnson was also scheduled to speak during the baccalaureate service that will be held on May 18. Later he learned that instead of being the sole speaker, he was to be one of three speakers, a decision that he alleges was made because of the critical tone of his op-ed piece.
Johnson said he was concerned about Morehouse College’s long standing tradition of educating and training forward thinking young African-American men. Some of Black America’s most influential men graduated from the historically Black college; Martin Luther King Jr., actor Samuel L. Jackson, film director Spike Lee, politicians Maynard Jackson and Chuck Burris and scholar and author Lerone Bennett Jr., just to name a few.
In his letter to Wilson, Johnson wrote that he believed he was being “disinvited” to be the 2013 baccalaureate speaker because of the article. Johnson also wrote that he was “surprised and disappointed” by a phone call from Wilson expressing his “personal displeasure” with the op-ed piece. Repeated phone calls by Tribune reporters to reach Wilson for comment were unsuccessful.
“I have not heard from the college or Dr. Wilson,” Johnson said in a brief telephone interview. “The initial offer was for me to be the Baccalaureate speaker, it was not for me to be one of three. I am a man of principle, and so whatever a person’s word is, I stick with that — and that’s what I agreed to. I love my school and am deeply rooted in the prophetic social teaching of Morehouse — that’s why I went to Morehouse. Because of Dr. King, Howard Thurman and so many other illustrious men and because I wanted to be one of those Morehouse men. I will fight to keep Morehouse true to what she’s always been for these 146 years.”
In the letter, Johnson said that when President Wilson called on April 15 he indirectly suggested that he should withdraw from being the baccalaureate speaker. He said that because of a well-thought, crafted and soundly documented article, he became disturbed about the college.
“I am disturbed not because you called, but I am disturbed because of the reason for your calling. Your call was not to congratulate me for upholding the Morehouse tradition of critical thinking, analysis, and writing, but rather to scorn me for the use of it,” Johnson wrote.
The Op-Ed piece was published in the April 14, 2013 Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Tribune It was titled “A President for Everyone, Except Black People” and in it Pastor Johnson wrote that aside from Attorney General Eric Holder – the first African American to hold that critical post – there is a lack of diversity within the president’s cabinet. Johnson quoted Rep. Marcia Fudge, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who also mentioned this to Obama in a letter sent to his desk.
“When one compares President Obama to his predecessors, the decrease in African-American appointments is astounding,” Johnson wrote. “In American presidential history, President William Jefferson Clinton has been, by far, the most transformational leader. Clinton appointed seven African-American cabinet members, the most of any president in history: Compared to Obama, President George W. Bush also had more African-Americans in his cabinet, including the first African-American secretary of state and secretary of education, Colin Powell and Rod Paige, respectively. Bush also appointed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Alphonso Jackson as secretary of housing and urban development. For Obama, Eric Holder is the first African-American attorney general and the only African-American cabinet member of Obama’s administration. In sum, when one compares the first African-American president to his recent predecessors, the number of African-Americans in senior cabinet positions is very disappointing: Obama has not moved African-American leadership forward, but backwards.”
Johnson said in his letter that the irony was the timing of the discussion, and in the letter lashed out at Wilson and called his leadership of the college into question.
“Not the timing of the article but rather the timing of the discussion,” Johnson wrote. “To be quite honest with you, this is not about an article I have written or even the president of the United States being this year’s commencement speaker. Rather this is about the type of institution Morehouse College will be during your presidency and beyond.”
On April 21, Johnson spoke about the situation to the congregation of Bright Hope.
Michael Williams, a member of the church, expressed his views on the matter in a letter to the editor.
“Today at my church Bright Hope, Pastor Kevin Johnson shared with us that Morehouse may be trying to rescind their invitation to him to be this year’s baccalaureate speaker.
I don’t understand. I’m shocked. I can’t believe they would do this given that my pastor is a proud Morehouse man, talks about his alma mater all the time,and tells students from our church to attend. He has a doctorate degree from Columbia University, but knows to relate to everyone including me. He speaks out on issues in Philly and the nation just like Dr. King would do if he were alive. I could go on and on about my pastor. I look up to him and want my son to be a Morehouse man just like my pastor,” Williams wrote.
“One more thing. Morehouse’s new president Dr. Wilson was just at our church in June 2012. I remembered his sermon on education Sunday. He did a good job. He told us to think. I was so uplifted by his message that I am now trying to get back in community college so I can get my AA and soon my BA. Because he made me think about going back to school I purchased his sermon and often listen to it to inspire me. I just don’t understand how a minister can treat another minister like that. Also I don’t understand how he can preach a sermon like that at our church and then try to deny my pastor the same opportunity just because he wrote an article about the president in last Sunday’s Philadelphia Tribune. Morehouse and Dr. Wilson should be ashamed of themselves.”
Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. has responded to the controversy surrounding Rev. Kevin Johnson’s invitation to speak during the college’s baccalaureate service.
The controversy began after Johnson wrote an op-ed article in the April 14 edition of the Tribune that was critical of President Barack Obama’s lack of African American appointees in his cabinet.
Johnson, who is the senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, had been invited to be the sole baccalaureate speaker May 18 at his alma mater. After Johnson’s article appeared, Wilson contacted Johnson by phone and stated that the article was “untimely” given that Obama is Morehouse’s 2013 commencement speaker. He amended his decision to have Johnson appear as the sole speaker and opted to add two more baccalaureate speakers. Johnson refused the offer on the grounds that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker and all initial representations made to him.
Last Friday, Citizens for Change, a group of prominent Morehouse alumni, decried Wilson’s decision to amend his invitation to Johnson. They called for Wilson to honor his original invitation to have Johnson appear as the sole baccalaureate speaker.
“The idea that Dr. Johnson’s views disqualify him as a candidate to deliver the Morehouse baccalaureate address is quite disturbing. The views expressed in the article in question are consistent with views he has expressed in his monthly columns and national media appearances. If the goal here is to subject potential speakers to an ideological litmus test as a precondition for speaking during this historic weekend at Morehouse, the college administration should have done its due diligence in thoroughly vetting the potential speaker in advance of extending the invitation, ” Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. said in a release.
“Dr. Johnson represents the best of the Morehouse tradition and the best of engaged political support of President Obama, even if at times critical of the president. Whether one agrees with Johnson or not, the coalition of Obama supporters consists of people with varying viewpoints, and of varying points of agreement and disagreement with the Obama Administration. Punishing the expression of political dissent is the wrong message to send young African-American men charged with being global citizens in a diverse world.”
Wilson addressed the issue in an open letter to the Morehouse community.
“In brief, I extended an invitation to a distinguished alumnus to speak at our upcoming baccalaureate service. I subsequently made a decision to adjust the format of the baccalaureate program and opted for a more creative, multi-speaker approach that is used by many leading institutions. This sharing of the stage comports with the spirit of upholding democratic ideals, including freedom of speech and expression, and is entirely consistent with the spirit of camaraderie that Morehouse holds dear,” Wilson wrote.
“As president, I believe this is in the best interest of the college. In this instance, I decided to ask this invited speaker to share the baccalaureate stage with two other speakers so as to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.”
Wilson said his decision was wrongly construed by some as an effort to “disinvite” Johnson.
“He was not disinvited, but rather declined to participate in the format. Worse yet, this decision has led to allegations of censorship, which of course has no place in any viable academic institution. These allegations are fundamentally deleterious and are undeserved,” he wrote.
“In brief, this matter is not and has never been about censorship. Nor has it anything to do with stifling or limiting ‘prophetic voices,’ disturbing the ‘King legacy,’ or deviating from any of the proud traditions of the College.”
When asked to respond to Wilson’s letter, Johnson told the Tribune that he has no response at this time.
Morehouse College had withdrawn its invitation after pastor's criticism of Obama
Morehouse College has announced that the Rev. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, will deliver the baccalaurate sermon as a part of graduation festivities.
“The focus of commencement weekend should be on the graduates, their families and the historic visit by the president of the United States,” Morehouse President John S. Wilson Jr. said in a news release.
“There is no better way to honor that priority than to have a distinguished [alumnus] give the baccalaureate sermon and two recent alumni offer baccalaureate hermeneutics to the graduating class.”
Johnson, who is a 1996 Morehouse alum, will deliver his sermon on Saturday, a day before President Barack Obama offers the commencement address at the Atlanta college.
“For 146 years, Morehouse has produced men who are progressive leaders, critical thinkers, committed to changing the world,” Johnson said in a statement.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to deliver the baccalaureate sermon and I commend President Wilson and his administration for continuing the Morehouse traditions of free thought and speech, which produced Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Julian Bond and other esteemed Morehouse men.”
Morehouse’s Wednesday announcement comes on the heels of a controversy that started when Johnson wrote an op-ed in the April 14 edition of the Philadelphia Tribune criticizing Obama’s lack of Black appointees to his second-term cabinet.
Earlier this year, Johnson had been invited to deliver Morehouse’s baccalaurate sermon. After his op-ed appeared, Wilson contacted Johnson by phone and stated that the article was “untimely” given that Obama is Morehouse’s 2013 commencement speaker. Wilson, who led the White House’s program on Black colleges before taking on the role of Morehouse president, changed Johnson’s initial solo address to a three-speaker panel during baccaularate services. Johnson then refused the offer on the grounds that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker and all initial representations made to him.
Several Morehouse alumni criticized Wilson for the decision and accused him of trying to censor Johnson. In a letter to the campus, Wilson denied the charges and said he had asked Johnson to share the stage with two other baccularate speakers to “reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.”
During the baccalaurate ceremony, the two alumni that will offer hermeneutics to the class are the Rev. Anthony Mark Miller, CEO of Giant Steps Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and Olusesgun “Segun” Abayomi, a candidate for the master of divinity degree at Boston University School of Theology.
Headed White House Initiative on HBCUs
John S. Wilson Jr., the executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges, has been named the 11th president of Morehouse College.
Wilson comes to Morehouse with more than 25 years of leadership in higher education and a successful record in institutional fundraising.
Wilson’s appointment follows a rigorous, nationwide search conducted by professional recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles. The search was launched following the January 2012 announcement that Robert M. Franklin would be stepping down as president at the end of the year.
“I am honored to be chosen to lead this hallowed institution and my alma mater,” said Wilson, a 1979 graduate of Morehouse.
“Dr. Franklin’s efforts to raise the international profile of the college and advance its mission through its ‘Morehouse Renaissance’ are just a few among the many significant accomplishments by which he will be remembered. I thank the board for its confidence in my leadership and I look forward to working with faculty, students and staff and continuing our proud tradition of producing global leaders.”
Robert C. Davidson Jr., chairman of Morehouse’s board of trustees, commended the board and search consultants for recommending Wilson for the position.
“Dr. Wilson has the vision, experience and passion to ensure that Morehouse continues to advance its aim of producing global leaders who will continue to make a difference in the world. His record of academic excellence and public service is exemplary of the standard we hold for Morehouse men,” said Davidson.
“The board and I are confident that with his leadership we will be well-positioned to continue delivering the educational environment that prepares our students for lives of leadership and service.”
Wilson has expertise in defining and advancing the interests of Black colleges through his research at George Washington University, his service on the Spelman College board of trustees and as executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.
“John has been a trusted voice, helping my administration follow through on our commitment to strengthen historically Black colleges and universities,” said President Barack Obama.
“I wish John the best as he takes on this important new role as the president of Morehouse College and as he continues to inspire more of our nation’s youth to pursue higher education.”
As executive director of the White House Initiative, Wilson worked to strengthen the capacity of 105 HBCUs and led his team to work with the White House, 32 federal agencies and the private corporate and philanthropic sectors in securing capital.
“John has been a leader among leaders, advocating for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and challenging them to be the best they can be,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.
“Morehouse College is fortunate to have John as its next president and President Obama and I are fortunate to benefit from John’s continuing commitment to reach our national goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020.”
Wilson will officially assume the role of president at the end of January. Willis B. Sheftall Jr. interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will serve as acting president from Jan. 1 until Wilson officially takes office.
“Throughout his distinguished career Dr. Wilson has demonstrated his commitment to supporting the critical role HBCUs serve within our national educational landscape,” said Robert Franklin, the 10th president of Morehouse.
“Our institution and students will be very well served by Dr. Wilson’s experience, focus and passion.”
Prior to working with the White House Initiative, Wilson was an associate professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at George Washington University. He also served as the executive dean of GWU’s Virginia campus and he helped to develop a strategic plan for the university. At GWU, the focus of his research and teaching included advancement and finance in higher education and the role of Black colleges and universities.
He spent the first 16 years of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ultimately becoming the director of foundation relations and assistant provost, where he more than doubled the productivity of the office he managed and reached a record annual revenue stream of more than $50 million. While working at MIT, he served as a teaching fellow in Harvard University’s Afro-American Studies Department in its Graduate School of Education.
For 10 years, Wilson was the president of the Greater Boston Morehouse College Alumni Association. In that role, he led an effort to raise more than a half-million dollars toward scholarships and another half-million toward community outreach for his alumni chapter. In 1998, Morehouse awarded him the Benjamin Elijah Mays (Bennie) Award in Leadership.
He recently served as a consultant to the United Negro College Fund Institute for Capacity Building’s HBCU Institutional Advancement Program and on the Kresge Foundation’s Black College Advisory Board.
From 1996 through 2000, he was chairman of the Alumni Council of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has served on the boards of both the Samaritans and the Andover Newton Theological School.
Wilson received his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse and graduate degrees from Harvard University, including his master of theology and both a master’s and a doctoral degree in administration, planning and social policy.
He is married to Carol Espy-Wilson, an engineering professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. They have twin daughters and a son.
Morehouse is the nation’s largest private liberal arts college for men.
The Rev. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, was invited to be the baccalaureate speaker on May 18 at his alma mater, Morehouse College.
The question is whether he was later disinvited or discouraged from speaking after Johnson wrote an op-ed article in the April 14 edition of The Tribune that was critical of President Barack Obama’s lack of African-American appointees in his cabinet and whether the president’s polices have helped to reduce African-American unemployment.
According to a press release from Citizens for Change — a group of prominent Morehouse graduates — Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson disinvited Johnson because of the op-ed article. Wilson has denied that he disinvited Johnson.
After Johnson’s article, Wilson reportedly contacted Johnson by phone and stated the article was “untimely” given that Obama is Morehouse’s 2013 commencement speaker. He amended his decision to have Johnson appear as the sole speaker and opted to add two more baccalaureate speakers.
“As president, I believe this is in the best interest of the college. In this instance, I decided to ask this invited speaker to share the baccalaureate stage with two other speakers so as to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints,” said Wilson.
Johnson refused the offer on the grounds that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker and initial representations made to him.
Despite Wilson’s denials he should be aware the timing of his actions appeared to be tied to Johnson’s article in the Tribune and that it could be perceived as an attempt to have a chilling effect on criticism of the president.
Wilson should also understand as the president of a college, especially one with the esteemed history of Morehouse, it would be totally unacceptable for him to disinvite a speaker simply because he is critical of the president.
Fortunately, in our republican form of government, we are citizens and not subjects of a king. Presidents are expected to be criticized by the media and citizens.
Johnson, a supporter of the president, has not only the right but a duty to criticize Obama and any other elected official if he disagrees with their policies. He has that right whether he was a supporter or not. Johnson’s right to speak out does not change because he and the president are both African Americans.
The Congressional Black Caucus, also strong supporters of Obama, has also been critical of the lack of diversity of his cabinet. Obama on Monday tapped Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to lead the Department of Transportation. Foxx is the first African American nominee to Obama’s second term cabinet and the second African American cabinet member in his administration.
African-American voters should hold African-American politicians just as accountable as any other politicians. To suggest otherwise is unfair to African-American voters and insulting to African-American elected officials. Supporters of the president are not doing him any favors by attempting to silence his African-American critics. Politicians who can not respond to criticism appear weak and thin-skinned. The president appears more than capable of responding to critics.
Morehouse most famous graduate, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. faced critics from others in the Civil Rights Movement for his criticism of then President Lyndon B. Johnson over the war in Vietnam after Johnson’s central role in passage of civil rights laws.
King’s considerable courage to speak critically of a president considered a friend of civil rights reflected both the prophetic tradition of African-American preachers speaking truth to the powerful and the training he received at Morehouse College. It’s a proud tradition that Morehouse should continue to uphold.
ATLANTA — Morehouse College President Robert Franklin plans to step down after a five-year term as head of the prestigious, historically Black men's college.
Franklin, 57, took office in 2007 as the college's tenth president. He will become the college's President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor.
If a successor is not found by July 1, Franklin will remain until either a new president is chosen or the end of the year.
During his tenure, Franklin launched a new capital campaign and new public perception of Morehouse. He said he plans to take a sabbatical as a scholar in residence at Stanford University's Martin Luther King Jr. Institute and will return to Morehouse to teach.
Franklin is a 1975 alumnus. Other prominent graduates include King, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson.
He previously was the Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and president of the Interdenominational Theological Center.
The Chicago native is also an author and theologian with a master's degree in divinity from the Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in divinity from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has written extensively on the role of the Black church in the African-American community. -- (AP)
ATLANTA — President Barack Obama, in a soaring commencement address on work, sacrifice and opportunity, on Sunday told graduates of historically Black Morehouse College to seize the power of their example as Black men graduating from college and use it to improve people's lives.
The president said his success was due to "the special obligation I felt, as a Black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn't have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I. I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me."
Noting the Atlanta school's mission to cultivate, not just educate, good men, Obama said graduates should not be so eager to join the chase for wealth and material things, but instead should remember where they came from and not "take your degree and get a fancy job and nice house and nice car and never look back."
"So yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless," Obama said. "Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business, we need Black businesses out there. But ask yourself what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood."
"The most successful CEOs I know didn't start out intent on making money, rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed," he said.
For those headed to medical school, Obama said "make sure you heal folks in underserved communities who really need it, too."
Before Obama arrived in Atlanta, thunderstorms drenched hundreds of people who gathered on the campus lawn for the outdoor ceremony, forcing many guests to wear clear plastic ponchos over what amounted to their Sunday-best clothes. Rain began falling again, accompanied by more thunder and lightning, minutes after Obama began to speak.
Obama used the speech to once again share his personal story of growing up without a father, confessing that along the way he made unspecified bad personal choices "like too many men in our community."
"Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a Black man down," he said. "I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there's no longer any room for excuses."
Speaking in personal terms as he often does when addressing predominantly Black audiences, particularly of Black males, the nation's first Black president also spoke intimately of his desire to be a better father to daughters Malia and Sasha than his absent father was to him, and to be a better husband to his wife, Michelle.
He told the graduates to pay attention to their families, saying success in every other aspect of life means nothing without success at home.
"I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you," he said. "But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I've tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn't for my mother and me. I've tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man."
"I know that when I'm on my deathbed someday, I won't be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted. I won't be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received," said Obama, 51. "I'll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters, a lazy afternoon with my wife, whether I did right by all of them."
The speech was Obama's second commencement address of the season, following remarks last Sunday at Ohio State University in Columbus. His third and final graduation address will come Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
About 500 students received undergraduate degrees on Sunday and became "Morehouse Men."
After the speech, Obama joined about 100 people at the office of the foundation of Arthur M. Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team. Donors paid anywhere from $10,000 to $32,400 per couple to attend the fundraiser. -- (AP)