By The Sellers Group
Chapter 2: Carl Hairston
Thank You President Obama
I have always been a fan of history, since I was a young child. Loved reading war stories, history books, watching documentaries, you name it. One thing I constantly noticed was that the history of people who looked like me was separated into a list of first this, or first that; and was typically only celebrated in February. On Tuesday, January 20, 2009, I stood in freezing temperatures with my family as we watched the most important first of my lifetime. The inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama; the first black man in this most renowned office. The previous summer, I volunteered for his campaign in my home city of Winston-Salem. I was enamored by his charisma, his message of change, and the spirit of YES WE CAN. The very first time I heard him speak was the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I heard him utter the words:
This was fitting coming from a man of African descent. Even as our race faced constant racism and struggle, we always looked towards the future in belief that a change was coming. I told my dad that night, then Senator Obama would run for President in 2008. A little over four years after that speech, I was in a Political Science class a college sophomore. Because we were heavy into election season, that was usually the topic of our conversation. In mid-September, our professor told us that if McCain lost NC (my home state, which was historically red) then he could kiss the election goodbye. He then went on to say that Senator Obama had no chance at winning NC, and should focus on other states. Well you know how that story goes. Obama won NC, and won the election in unprecedented fashion.
Now let’s go back to January 20, 2009. The collection of families gathered for his inauguration was the most diverse, jubilant population I have ever been around. Of course, there were people on the corner selling shirts with MLK, Malcolm, and Obama. However, there were also parents and grandparents explaining to children how they grew up never expecting to see a black man become President; so they had to come see it with their own two eyes. Personally, I am a generation removed from segregation. My father drank from a colored water fountain, went to segregated elementary schools, and now we both were able to elect a black man as President (twice). It was almost surreal. In the back of my mind, I expected something to go wrong; for him to be tragically assassinated, or for some scandal to rob us of his presidency. Well guess what? That didn’t happen. History books will one-day laud President Obama as one of our most progressive, impactful Presidents in our nation’s history. He passed the Affordable Care Act, insuring an additional 20 million Americans and allowed more than 90% of Americans to be insured for the first time ever. He took an economy that was shrinking at more than 8 percent and is leaving us with one that is growing at more than 3 percent. During his presidency, our dependence on foreign oil has been cut by more than half and our production of renewable energy has more than doubled. He also passed bills decreasing the privatization of prisons, advancing the civil rights of minorities, women and the LGBTQ community, and oversaw the increase of high school graduation rates to 83%, along with passing legislation to make college loans easier to repay. Without facing constant opposition and filibustering from Congress, this list of accomplishments could be even longer.
All of these victories aside, President Obama served as a crown jewel for the African-American community. There will always be back and forth arguments on if he truly did enough for the black community. Plenty will say that he was not just Black America’s president, so he couldn’t do things just for us. I’m not here to argue that. What I will say, is what is most important, and that is REPRESENTATION MATTERS. There are young black males growing up, who only know of a black president, nothing else. When I grew up, having a black president was a dream, and to young kids today it is a reality. They can truly set their sights on having the nation’s highest office, and know there was someone who looks just like them who held that position. One of my favorite pictures of President Obama, is when he is bending down so a small African American male can touch his hair. He wanted to see if President Obama’s hair felt the same as his. For a culture who has had their hair marked as nappy, too short, etc., this was beautiful. That child felt special because his hair felt the exact same of the leader of the free world. I get so happy every time I see that picture. By the way, through all this stress Barry-O has kept that hairline very crisp, salute to you my brother.
So thank you President Obama. Thank you for going high when they went low. Thank you for marrying a beautiful black woman. Thank you for raising two daughters in the spotlight and finding a way to keep them grounded. Thank you for your love of this country. Thank you for easily being the coolest president in history. Thank you for bringing a basketball hoop to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thank you for fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. Thank you for your calming speeches in our moments of despair. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being our first black President. Thank you for reminding us of those three simple words: “YES WE CAN”.
Photo Credit: NY Times