Barack Obama has told Americans protesting for racial justice that their deeds “are as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime” and encouraged cities to commit to reforms to end police brutality.
The former president, speaking in an online meeting with campaigners on Wednesday, urged every American mayor to review and reform their police department's use-of-force policies in consultation with their communities.
Mr Obama also struck a note of optimism, even as he acknowledged the despair and anger powering the protests since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in police custody nine days ago.
"In some ways, as tragic as these last few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they've been, they've also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends," Mr Obama said via livestream from his Chicago home in his first live remarks on the unrest gripping dozens of US cities.
"And they offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals."
He also directly addressed young Americans of colour, telling them, "I want you to know that you matter, I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter."
Mr Obama's speech offered a distinct contrast in tone to the way his successor, President Donald Trump, has responded to the protests, some of which have devolved into violence. Mr Trump has threatened to deploy the US military to quell demonstrations and told governors to get "tougher."
Mr Obama did not mention Mr Trump on Wednesday, though he has criticised the president's actions more frequently in recent weeks.
Wednesday's address was part of a discussion hosted by My Brother's Keeper, a programme Mr Obama founded in 2014 in the wake of the police shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to address deep-seated racial inequities. The panel included former Attorney-General Eric Holder and other black leaders.
Mr Obama, who saw a similar outpouring of grief and frustration while in office after a spate of police killings of unarmed black men, rejected the notion that one must choose between "voting versus protests" or "politics and participation versus civil disobedience."
"This is not an either-or," he said. "This is a both-and."