Among a crowd of ambitious students, innovative faculty and staff, alumni and special guests, the 44th President of the United States sat down with ESPN’s Stan Verrett at North Carolina A&T State University for a conversation on sports, race and achievement.
The student forum, presented by ESPN’s The Undefeated ranged in topic from what it means to be “undefeated” to the importance of funding Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Along the way relevant topics of the day were addressed with the President’s engaging, eloquent and intellectual, yet down-home style of commentary that resonated with the entire crowd of 200 guests.
Many sports analogies were offered, but the heart of the conversation delved into the intricate and often controversial current issues. Students and guests didn’t shy away, but asked tough questions such as: What is the best way for collegiate and professional athletes to be activists and bring about change? And perhaps most-closely related to the president and his path to leadership, as a student organizer what advice would you have for developing future activism and leaders? In response, the President said that there are many ways to bring about change. Elaborating, he said it’s important not to criticize how others choose to change the world, rather to focus on yourself as an individual change agent. He encouraged activists that change happens on the grassroots level when individuals work their cause, then meet their specified goal as well as engage in cross-cultural and cross-economic dialogue.
While everyone in the intimate setting, that was held in the university’s Alumni Foundation Event Center, was clearly captivated by the President’s attendance to the event, it was his thoughts and ideals that captured the hearts of the students and authored the dynamics of the room.
“Being a part of the undefeated conversation with the president was amazing. Not just simply being in his presence but the actual conversation itself,” said Naomi Nance, a senior, journalism and mass communication major. “I enjoyed when the president spoke of service to others. As young people, we think it's all about us. However, as the president brought out, when you exclude the vanity in your motives and substitute that with the willingness to serve others, that's where your strength comes from. When you have that attitude your individual victories and defeats are not so important compared to the bigger picture. That's what resonated with me throughout, during and even after the Undefeated conversation with the president.”
Although there were plenty of light-hearted moments, particularly when President Obama joked about “teaching” basketball superstar Stephon Curry how to shoot baskets, he maintained his stance and mission to make sure that every socio-economic issue is addressed and rectified for every individual, particularly young men of color, even beyond his presidential term.
Having privately spent some time with a few young African-American men and discussing the issues that matter to them, President Obama reiterated the necessity of the establishment and continued proliferation of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which has directly affected and positively impacted the trajectory of those young men’s lives.
Despite the varying negative issues that often arise, particularly for young African American students and professionals, the resounding theme for the conversation was to remain resolved and determined in the pursuit of passion and in the words of Dr. Maya Angelou that even though there may be defeats in life, “you must not be defeated.”
“This was a great opportunity for not only me but for our institution. It's always about looking at the bigger picture and people can clearly see why North Carolina A&T is the best institution in the world. I remember going to President Barack Obama's first inauguration in January 2009 when I was 14 years old. Having this opportunity means everything to me and I am forever thankful,” said Jeffron Smalls, student and Mister A&T.