There have been 43 White men as U.S. President. President Obama finally broke up the club of whiteness and added some diversity. He is truly in all aspects of the term African-American; since he was born to a White mother from the Midwest and an African father from Kenya. When running for office there was a dichotomy of opinion whether he was Black enough or if he was too Black. Some wondered would the White House now become the Black House? During all the negative rhetoric I watched not with despair but with pride to see a Black man take the oath of office to become the 44th U.S. President. Wait, let me correct, I listened while on Pennsylvania Avenue standing in Freedom Plaza along the Inauguration Parade route just around the corner from the White House on January 20, 2009.
My journey began way back with the Obamas in 1996, when as a Clinton-Gore volunteer, I was tasked with phone banking and making down ticket calls for Barack Obama. I didn’t know much about him except he had done organizing within his community. He was a lawyer at that point having graduated from Harvard Law School. He also taught constitutional law these were snippets of information provided over the course of the ’96 campaign. It was a joyous time when on November 5, 1996, President Clinton and Vice President Gore were re-elected and Barack Obama won his first election for the Illinois State Senate. During the Victory Party at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, getting my first hugs from Senator-elect Obama and his wife Michelle was heart-warming, yes they’ve always been huggers.
I relocated in 1997 to South Carolina, so Barack Obama was my Senator only for a short while. However, I watched with pride when he was introduced to the world at the 2004 Democratic National Convention during the speech heard around the globe. The most recognized part of the speech is:
“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”
However, one of my favorite parts of the speech is:
“If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief — it is that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one.”
After hearing this phenomenal speech everyone wanted to know who is this State Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate? I already knew and watched from that point waiting for the moment for when he would run for U.S. President. It wasn’t a question of if but when.
Following many rumors in February 2007, in Springfield, Illinois U.S. Senator Barack Obama announced his run for U.S. President. Among other U.S. Senators running were Joe Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton. In May 2007, I stopped by the South Carolina Obama Campaign Headquarters in Columbia, SC located on the corner of Calhoun and Assembly streets and began my volunteer efforts. Starting off doing phone banking I knew my talent was better used in other capacities. And over time soon became what I am known best as Data Goddess. The Obama Campaign recreated how data as well as digital media was used during a campaign. He created via his experience of community organizing a new mold for how to run a Presidential campaign. With the blowout win of the South Carolina Presidential Democratic Primary, Obama and not Clinton became the candidate to beat.
Upon becoming elected as the 44th President even during a campaign where rocks and stones were thrown his way, he pushed for an agenda passionate to him. Unlike any other President before him his cabinet was filled with powerful and capable women. Showing the importance of women, the first piece of legislation he signed was the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act Bill.” Over the last 8 years, President Obama has signed approximately 1,350 pieces of legislation into law. His most famous and the piece of legislation marked for repeal by the 115th U.S. Congress is The Affordable Care Act. Coming into the White House with a dysfunctional banking system and an auto industry near bankruptcy he made tough decisions in bailing both out with federal assistance. Even when detractors thought this was not the better solution but time has shown it was the best solution.
There are far too many things to list regarding why I have such admiration for the Obama Administration. However, I most respect the humanness of the President. During addresses after shootings at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT and last year at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida we saw a very human and compassionate President. We also saw this when speaking about the killing of Trayvon Martin and during the numerous addresses made upon unjustified shooting of Black men and women by law enforcement across the nation. It is the humanness, dignity, and intelligence that I most admire about President Obama.
With the incoming 45th President, I am greatly concerned about the openness and dignity that President Obama brought to the White House. I do not have confidence in the leadership to come this is based on the vitriol hate displayed during the 2016 Presidential campaign by the Republican Presidential nominee. I admit I am a staunch liberal and a leader within the South Carolina Democratic Party, so to many of course I admire and support President Obama. However, I am fair and try not to pre-judge but what I have seen thus far from the U.S. President-Elect does not give me great confidence in the next four years. I do not see an inclusive or diverse White House or one open to the public in the way the Obama Administration engaged the public.
I admit as a Black woman I have watched with pride the initiatives put in place by First Lady Michelle Obama. She has worked for military families to getting young people moving and eating healthy to fighting for girls right to education around the globe. Being a part of history also puts a smile in my heart. On June 1, 2016, on behalf of the Columbia Museum of Art as their Community Member, I attended the ceremony and reception for 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. It was hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House. And to the surprise of us all while in the Blue Room we saw Marine One land and take off on the White House lawn! This opportunity seemed to be a full circle moment from when I first met the Obama’s in Chicago, Illinois.
Finally, I say thank you President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for your leadership and dedication to the American people. Seeing a Black couple occupy the White House makes me proud not merely because they are Black but because they worked hard to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There was no silver spoon for them during their childhoods but there was the knowledge of how important it is to get an education and then to uplift their communities. I will miss the weekly addresses by President Obama and the many initiatives of First Lady Obama but I know now they will take their work to Chicago, Illinois in a year or so, putting their knowledge and activism in the Obama Presidential Library and Center. I know there is much more awesome things to come for the Obama family. Thank you President and First Lady Obama for showing citizens of the United States and the world how to rise higher.
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