A graduating student in San Diego, Calif., and her sister watch former President Barack Obama deliver a virtual commencement address to millions of high school seniors who will miss graduation ceremonies due to the coronavirus outbreak, May 16, 2020.
Former President Barack Obama delivers a virtual address, as seen on a TV in a home in San Diego, California, May 16, 2020.

WASHINGTON - Former President Barack Obama says he is optimistic the United States is “going to get better” because young people are involved in the issues that are driving protests in the streets.

Obama was part of an online town hall Wednesday hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which Obama launched in 2014 to address issues affecting young African American men.

Obama did not mention anyone by name, including President Donald Trump, on Wednesday. But he said it was time to highlight problems and “make people in power uncomfortable.”

“Feel hopeful even as you may feel angry … change is coming ... the kinds of epic changes ... in our country that are as profound as anything I have seen in my lifetime," he said.

He said he wanted those who feel targeted by police and others because of their race to know that their lives and dreams matter. Obama said they should be able to walk down a street, into a store, or even go birdwatching in a park without worrying that something was going to happen.

The last example referred to a white woman’s call to police after a black man in Central Park in New York asked her to put a leash on her loose dog.

Police outraged, too

Obama noted that people who work in law enforcement have a tough job, and that many of them are outraged at the mistreatment displayed by some of their fellow police officers. He said the majority of police are dedicating to protecting and serving the public and are a “vital part” of the conversation.

He said that while some people have compared this week’s protest marches to those in the 1960s, "I know enough about that history to say: There is something different here." Obama said those marching now are far more representative of America than the marchers of 50 years ago. “That didn't exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad collation," he said.

He also told the young people that change has to come through both voting and civil disobedience, not street protests alone.

Carter speaks

Another former president also spoke out about the current unrest for the first time Wednesday.  

Jimmy Carter also declined to name Trump or anyone else when he issued a statement saying, “We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.”

Carter said that he and former first lady Rosalynn Carter were “pained by the tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks” but that  violence was no solution.