Biden to deliver Morehouse graduation speech amid concerns from faculty and students

ATLANTA — On Sunday morning, President Joe Biden will give the commencement speech at Morehouse College. This will be his first direct interaction with college students since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict and a crucial chance for him to connect with young Black men, a demographic that polls indicate is becoming less hostile toward him. Biden intends to use his speech to “focus on the students” and “address their concerns,” according to a White House source who is aware of the preparations for the speech, which was provided to NBC News. “.

Reinforcing this idea, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre informed reporters on Friday that Biden views his speech as “a chance to inspire and impart a crucial message to our next generation of leaders.”. “. “I can tell you that he has been working on these remarks with his senior advisers for the past few days. He’s treating this very seriously, Jean-Pierre remarked.

The moment will come. Additionally, I believe the president will speak with you directly about how he sees the future of both this nation and the community that they represent. “.

Biden gave a sneak peek at the tone of his speech on Thursday at a celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. “Morehouse was established following the Civil War to assist Black Americans who had been enslaved in obtaining an education, entering the ministry, and escaping slavery,” stated Biden prior to revealing a $16 billion increase in funding for historically Black colleges and universities. “Morehouse’s founders recognized a basic principle.

Freedom and education are related. Because having something that no one can ever take away from you is what it means to be free. “.

Nonetheless, there will be nationwide demonstrations against Biden’s handling of the Gaza War and against the White House’s ongoing financial and military backing of Israel during Biden’s speech at Morehouse. Some at Morehouse are hoping that during his commencement speech, Biden addresses those issues head-on. “Hopefully, boilerplate language is avoided.

I’m hoping to learn something that we haven’t heard before. At a protest on Friday, Morehouse professor Stephane Dunn expressed his hope that the man’s moral and ethical convictions will take precedence over politics.

Though not to the same extent or intensity as some larger universities, Morehouse College has also seen pro-Palestinian protests on campus. Protests by faculty and students began almost immediately after the school announced that Biden would be the commencement speaker and receive an honorary doctorate. Some of these protests persisted into the days before the ceremony.

In response to Biden’s visit, Morehouse senior Calvin Bell said, “This is one big distraction on a day to celebrate the class of 2024 following Covid-19, but this is also an opportunity for students to make their voices heard during a time of increasing war and genocide in the Middle East.”. Sophomore Anwar Karim, a fellow Morehouse student, stated, “We as students, faculty, and alumni who are standing on the right side of history do not stand with Biden.”. “For the past more than 200 days, he has been openly and clearly supporting an Israeli genocidal campaign. We do not share this viewpoint. “.

Most recently, the choice to present Biden with an honorary doctorate degree during the ceremony caused controversy among the Morehouse faculty. Over twenty staff members signed a letter opposing the decision, and the degree was awarded with a vote of fifty-eight to forty-eight, with about twelve faculty members voting against it.

Morehouse President David Thomas met with students and faculty at least three times as a result of divisions on campus. During those meetings, Thomas respected the Morehouse community’s right to protest Biden, but he also strongly encouraged—if not outright required—that the protests not be disruptive. Before the commencement, he told CNN that he would immediately stop the commencement should there be protests, even though he wouldn’t ask the police to step in. ..

I.e. “We will not request that anyone be removed from commencement wearing zip ties by the police, I have also decided. If we came to that point, Thomas declared, “I would stop the ceremonies right away if given the option.”. Due in part to the unpredictability of a police response, even the most vocal student protestors at Morehouse admitted that any protest during the commencement ceremony would probably not be disruptive.

Karim predicted that Sunday’s events involving the populace and those seeking change would be peaceful. We HBCUs here are also aware of the reality that encounters with the police frequently end in violence, so I don’t see it blowing up like it has at some of the other campuses. “.

To ease fears and reduce tensions regarding Biden’s visit, the White House sent both official and informal allies to Morehouse. In response to a request for “direct engagement” from the White House made by the Morehouse administration, Steve Benjamin, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, met this month with a small group of the school’s faculty and students.

Meeting attendees voiced concerns to Benjamin about Biden overshadowing their graduation, and others begged him not to use the commencement speech as a political stump speech. They were annoyed that Biden would use the speech to gain more support from Black voters. Others at Morehouse who disapproved of Biden’s visit felt the same way.

At a campus demonstration prior to Biden’s visit, Morehouse student Malik Poole stated, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he only accepted the invitation after Trump was already in [Atlanta’s] West End, trying to make gains and failing to make gains with our students here.”. Additionally, voters of color are abandoning Biden at a rate that has never been seen before. “. Nevertheless, this week’s campaign and administration will be working together to hone Biden’s message to Black voters in advance of his visit to Morehouse.

Biden had a meeting on Thursday with the plaintiffs and their relatives from the landmark Brown v. The case of the Board of Education. He met with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and leaders of the Divine Nine, a group of historically Black sororities and fraternities, the next day.

On Saturday, while in Georgia, Biden went to an event aimed at energizing Black voters. After he concludes his commencement speech, Biden will conclude the weekend by giving the keynote speech at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit, where he will highlight the achievements of his administration for African Americans. Some at Morehouse understand the “opportunity” Biden has to persuade members of that voting bloc during his speech, given data suggesting that Black voters, especially young Black voters, are growing less favorable toward Biden.