(Excerpts from his remarks, as provided by the Justice Department)
“We have seen a great deal of progress over the years. But we also see problems and these problems stem from mistrust and mutual suspicion.
I just had the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful young people and to hear them talk about the mistrust they have at a young age.
These are young people and already they are concerned about potential interactions they might have with the police.
I understand that mistrust.
I am the Attorney General of the United States, but I am also a black man. …I think about my time in Georgetown — a nice neighborhood of Washington — and I am running to a picture at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin.
Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells, ‘Where you going? Hold it!’ I say, ‘Whoa, I’m going to a movie.’
Now my cousin started mouthing off; I’m like, ‘This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.’
I’m angry and upset.
We negotiate the whole thing and we walk to our movie.
At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid. I was a federal prosecutor.
I worked at the United States Department of Justice.
So I’ve confronted this myself.
We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country. That’s what I have been trying to do. That’s what the President has been trying to do.
We have a very active Civil Rights Division. I am proud of what these men and women have done. As they write about the legacy of the Obama administration, a lot of it is going to be about what the Civil Rights Division has done.
So this interaction must occur. This dialogue is important. But it can’t simply be that we have a conversation that begins based on what happens on August 9, and ends sometime in December, and nothing happens.
As I was just telling these young people, change is possible. The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney general of the United States.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks at the Memorial Service for Dr Maya Angelou
Thank you so much. (Applause.) My heart is so full. My heart is so full. Bebe — Oprah, why did you do that? Just why did you put me after this? (Laughter.)
To the family, Guy, to all of you; to the friends; President Clinton; Oprah; my mother, Cicely Tyson; Ambassador Young — let me just share something with you. My mother, Marian Robinson, never cares about anything I do. (Laughter.) But when Dr. Maya Angelou passed, she said, you’re going, aren’t you? I said, well, Mom, I’m not really sure, I have to check with my schedule. She said, you are going, right? (Laughter.) I said, well, I’m going to get back to you but I have to check with the people, figure it out. I came back up to her room when I found out that I was scheduled to go, and she said, that’s good, now I’m happy. (Laughter.)
It is such a profound honor, truly, a profound honor, to be here today on behalf of myself and my husband as we celebrate one of the greatest spirits our world has ever known, our dear friend, Dr. Maya Angelou.
In the Book of Psalms it reads: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the Earth.” What a perfect description of Maya Angelou, and the gift she gave to her family and to all who loved her.
She taught us that we are each wonderfully made, intricately woven, and put on this Earth for a purpose far greater than we could ever imagine. And when I think about Maya Angelou, I think about the affirming power of her words.
The first time I read “Phenomenal Woman”, I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. (Applause.) Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever and sassy; they were powerful and sexual and boastful. And in that one singular poem, Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of black women, but she also graced us with an anthem for all women –- a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.
And, oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. As a young woman, I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie. (Laughter.) That was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head.
Her message was very simple. She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said, “Each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.” She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race.
Dr. Angelou’s words sustained me on every step of my journey –- through lonely moments in ivy-covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers; through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls; through long years on the campaign trail where, at times, my very womanhood was dissected and questioned. For me, that was the power of Maya Angelou’s words –- words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House. (Applause.)
And today, as First Lady, whenever the term “authentic” is used to describe me, I take it as a tremendous compliment, because I know that I am following in the footsteps of great women like Maya Angelou. But really, I’m just a beginner — I am baby-authentic. (Laughter.) Maya Angelou, now she was the original, she was the master. For at a time when there were such stifling constraints on how black women could exist in the world, she serenely disregarded all the rules with fiercely passionate, unapologetic self. She was comfortable in every last inch of her glorious brown skin.
But for Dr. Angelou, her own transition was never enough. You see, she didn’t just want to be phenomenal herself, she wanted all of us to be phenomenal right alongside her. (Applause.) So that’s what she did throughout her lifetime -– she gathered so many of us under her wing. I wish I was a daughter, but I was right under that wing sharing her wisdom, her genius, and her boundless love.
I first came into her presence in 2008, when she spoke at a campaign rally here in North Carolina. At that point, she was in a wheelchair, hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. But let me tell you, she rolled up like she owned the place. (Laughter.) She took the stage, as she always did, like she’d been born there. And I was so completely awed and overwhelmed by her presence I could barely concentrate on what she was saying to me.
But while I don’t remember her exact words, I do remember exactly how she made me feel. (Applause.) She made me feel like I owned the place, too. She made me feel like I had been born on that stage right next to her. And I remember thinking to myself, “Maya Angelou knows who I am, and she’s rooting for me. So, now I’m good. I can do this. I can do this.” (Applause.)
And that’s really true for us all, because in so many ways, Maya Angelou knew us. She knew our hope, our pain, our ambition, our fear, our anger, our shame. And she assured us that despite it all –- in fact, because of it all -– we were good. And in doing so, she paved the way for me and Oprah and so many others just to be our good, old, black-woman selves. (Applause.)
She showed us that eventually, if we stayed true to who we are, then the world would embrace us. (Applause.) And she did this not just for black women, but for all women, for all human beings. She taught us all that it is okay to be your regular old self, whatever that is –- your poor self, your broken self, your brilliant, bold, phenomenal self.
Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.
That was Maya Angelou’s reach. She touched me. She touched all of you. She touched people all across the globe, including a young white woman from Kansas who named her daughter after Maya, and raised her son to be the first black President of the United States. (Applause.)
So when I heard that Dr. Angelou had passed, while I felt a deep sense of loss, I also felt a profound sense of peace. Because there is no question that Maya Angelou will always be with us, because there was something truly divine about Maya. I know that now, as always, she is right where she belongs.
May her memory be a blessing to us all. Thank you. God bless. (Applause.)
President Obama comforts a relative of one of the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shootings at a memorial service at Marine Barracks, Washington
Secretary Hagel, Secretary Mabus, Admirals Greenert and Hilarides, Mayor Gray, leaders from across this city and our Armed Forces, to all the outstanding first responders, and, most of all, the families whose hearts have been broken — we cannot begin to comprehend your loss. We know that no words we offer today are equal to the magnitude, to the depths of that loss. But we come together as a grateful nation to honor your loved ones, to grieve with you, and to offer, as best we can, some solace and comfort.
On the night that we lost Martin Luther King Jr. to a gunman’s bullet, Robert Kennedy stood before a stunned and angry crowd in Indianapolis and he broke the terrible news. And in the anguish of that moment, he turned to the words of an ancient Greek poet, Aeschylus: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Pain which cannot forget — drop by drop upon the heart.
The tragedy and the pain that brings us here today is extraordinary. It is unique. The lives that were taken from us were unique. The memories their loved ones carry are unique, and they will carry them and endure long after the news cameras are gone. But part of what wears on as well is the sense that this has happened before. Part of what wears on us, what troubles us so deeply as we gather here today, is how this senseless violence that took place in the Navy Yard echoes other recent tragedies.
As President, I have now grieved with five American communities ripped apart by mass violence. Fort Hood. Tucson. Aurora. Sandy Hook. And now, the Washington Navy Yard. And these mass shootings occur against a backdrop of daily tragedies, as an epidemic of gun violence tears apart communities across America — from the streets of Chicago to neighborhoods not far from here.
And so, once again, we remember our fellow Americans who were just going about their day doing their jobs, doing what they loved — in this case, the unheralded work that keeps our country strong and our Navy the finest fleet in the world. These patriots doing their work that they were so proud of, and who have now been taken away from us by unspeakable violence.