Commentary: Honoring Black Lives on Memorial Day

Keith Boykin pays tribute to Black men and women who have lost their lives to violence in America.

Every year on Memorial Day, the president of the United States delivers remarks to honor the fallen. This year, in memory of the Black women and men who have been killed by state-sanctioned violence, I put together the president's own words to honor their sacrifice as well.

The words below were chosen and edited entirely from President Obama's Memorial Day speeches and arranged in chronological order from 2009 to 2014. Although the president often spoke of soldiers who had fallen in war, too many of our young people and adults have become casualties of another dangerous war in our own homeland. They, too, deserve a memorial.

President Obama's Remarks on Memorial Day

"We've gathered here in moments of war, when the somber notes of Taps echo through the trees, and fresh grief lingers in the air.

"Today is one of those moments, where we pay tribute to those who forged our history, but hold closely the memory of those so recently lost. And even as we gather here this morning, all across America, people are pausing to remember, to mourn, and to pray.

"With each death, we are heartbroken. With each death, we grow more determined ... But it reminds us all the meaning of valor; it reminds us all of our own obligations to one another; it recounts that most precious aspect of our history, and tells us that we will only rise or fall together.

"As you summon the strength to carry on each day, know that you’re not alone, and that America will always be at your side.

"To those of you who mourn the loss of a loved one today, my heart goes out to you. I love my daughters more than anything in the world, and I cannot imagine losing them. I can’t imagine losing a sister or brother or parent at war. The grief so many of you carry in your hearts is a grief I cannot fully know.

"It’s natural, when we lose someone we care about, to ask why it had to be them. Why my son, why my sister, why my friend, why not me? These are questions that cannot be answered by us.

"As a country, all of us can and should ask ourselves how we can help you shoulder a burden that nobody should have to bear alone ... One thing we can do is remember these heroes as you remember them ... as Americans, often far too young, who were guided by a deep and abiding love for their families.

"And finally, for all of you who carry a special weight on your heart, we can strive to be a nation worthy of your sacrifice. A nation that is fair and equal, peaceful and free. A nation that weighs the cost of every human life. A nation where all of us meet our obligations to one another, and to this country that we love. That’s what we can do.

"America stands at a crossroads. But even as we turn the page on a decade of conflict, even as we look forward, let us never forget, as we gather here today, that our nation is still at war ... Today most Americans are not directly touched by war. As a consequence, not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depth of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made.

"This ceremony marks another page in the life of our nation ... Today, in small towns across America, in cemeteries throughout our country and around the world, and here on these solemn hillsides, the families of our fallen share stories of the lives they led. Our hearts ache in their absence. But our hearts are also full full in knowing that their legacy shines bright in the people that they loved the most.

"Through almost unimaginable loss, these families of the fallen have tapped a courage and resolve that many of us will never know. And we draw comfort and strength from their example ... These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than that our country does ours now and for decades to come."
And, thus, in memory of Mya Hall, Meagan Hockaday, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and too many other Black women and men who have been killed in questionable circumstances, we ask that our country do its duty.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
BET National News - Keep up to date with breaking news stories from around the nation, including headlines from the hip hop and entertainment world. 

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.