South Africa 45 years ago this month. In his words, he said, the “numberless diverse acts of courage and belief which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
And that is how a church can become a parliament. That is how a hymn can be a call to action.
That is how a group of young people with nothing more than some handmade signs and a belief in their own God-given potential can galvanize a nation.
And that’s how young people around the world can inspire each other, and draw strength from each other.
I’m thinking today of the young activists who gathered at the American Library here in Soweto to read the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King for their inspiration.
And I’m thinking of how Dr. King drew inspiration from Chief Luthuli and the young people here in South Africa.
And I’m thinking about how young South Africans singing the American civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” in the streets of Cape Town and Durban.
And I’m thinking of how Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica echoed through university campuses in the U.S., as students -– including my husband –- planned boycotts to support students here in South Africa.
And I’m thinking of this church and how those stained windows depicting the struggle were donated by the people of Poland, and how the peace pole in the park outside was donated by people from Japan, and how every week, visitors from every corner of the globe come here to bear witness and draw inspiration from your history.
And finally, I’m thinking of the history of my own country. I mean, America won its independence more than two centuries ago. It has been nearly 50 years since the victories of our own civil rights movement. Yet we still struggle every day to perfect our union and live up to our ideals. And every day, it is our young people who are leading the way. They are the ones enlisting in our military. They’re the ones teaching in struggling schools, volunteering countless hours in countless ways in communities.
And in this past presidential election, they were engaged in our democracy like never before. They studied the issues, followed the campaign, knocked on doors in the freezing snow and the blazing sun, urging people to vote. They waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.
And I have seen that same passion, that same determination to serve in young people I have met all across the world, from India to El Salvador, from Mexico to the United Kingdom to here in South Africa.
So today, I want you to know that as you work to lift up your families, your communities, your countries and your world, know that you are never alone. You are never alone.
As Bobby Kennedy said here in South Africa all those years ago: “…you are joined with fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with yours, but all joined in a common purpose…determined to build a better future.”
And if anyone of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone ever tells you that you shouldn’t or you can’t, then I want you to say with one voice –- the voice of a generation –- you tell them, “Yes, we can.” (Applause.) What do you say? Yes, we can. (Applause.) What do you say? Yes, we can!
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can!
MRS. OBAMA: What do you say?
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can!
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. God bless you. (Applause.)
END 10:50 A.M. (Local)