raceAhead: Understanding Obama’s Plea for Unity

July 13, 2016, 1:29 PM UTC

President Obama delivered somber and emotional remarks Tuesday afternoon at an interfaith memorial service with the families of the five police officers killed in the recent sniper attacks in Dallas and other members of the Dallas community. He was joined by a bipartisan delegation that included former President George W. Bush, and former First Lady Laura Bush, as well as leaders from multiple faiths.

The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center hall was filled to capacity, with five seats left heart-breakingly empty save for folded flags and duty hats.

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions,” said President Bush calling for tolerance. “At our best, we recognize the image of God we see in one another.”

President Obama began by memorializing each of the five officers, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, and Lorne Ahrens with touching and personal tributes.

He then spoke very directly to the many different constituencies who continue to clash over race – Black Lives Matters supporters looking for justice, law enforcement who feel unfairly maligned for the work they do, or communities at large who simply want relief. “We are not as divided as we seem,” he told the crowd. But, he said, “I confess that sometimes I do experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these things,” he said, referring to the memorial. “I’ve comforted too many families.”

He appeared determined to embrace the complexity of the country that had brought them all to that moment.

The speech became, in between touchstones of scripture and confessions of occasional uncertainty, a challenge for everyone listening to do the difficult work of considering life through another person’s eyes. The call was not just for healing, but for empathy.

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