July 7th, 2004. The night I fell in love with Barack Obama. “Who is this brilliant, charismatic, handsome man,” I asked myself? Where did he come from? Why didn’t I know who he was? Chosen by John Kerry to be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, he was in fact, the Illinois State Senator running at the time to become the only African-American in the United States Senate. That’s who. And he spoke of the dreams of his hardworking grandparents for both his Kansas raised mother and Kenyan father, and his parents’ subsequent dreams for him. All attainable, he said, thanks to their faith in the possibilities of this nation. Barack, an African name meaning “blessed,” because his parents believed, “that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success.” He spoke of community in America, the need to reaffirm basic freedoms that “with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.” The audacity of hope. And just like that, I fell in love – all in under 20 minutes. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone.
While Kerry went on to lose the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush, Obama had an unexpected landslide victory and won a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. He was the new “Rock Star” within the national Democratic party. I wasn’t surprised there was talk of a presidential future. I bought his reissued book, Dreams from My Father. I was a goner. I wanted him to run for President, too! And on February 10th, 2007, to my utter delight, he announced his candidacy for presidency. He spoke, ever so eloquently, to us all. Black, latino, white, immigrant, young, old, Democrat and Republican. He wasn’t the “African American” presidential nominee. Of course, there is no getting past the fact that Obama is a man of color, but he transcended race. For the first time in my lifetime, there was a candidate of color who was able to make you see past his race and focus on issues that affected all of us. Jobs, healthcare, the economy, taxes, education … And the beauty of it was, he was actually able to convey that in fact these issues did affect all of us. He spoke of “Change we could believe in.” That united we were stronger. He was different. He even campaigned different. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, he was all over it. Shepard Fairey poster. He was brilliant and cool! He was infectious and his energy took hold. But he was Black. Let’s not mince words. That is all those who could not transcend color, or rather choose not to, saw. And so while I held on to HOPE, a little voice inside me would whisper, “Don’t get too excited.”
Then it happened. It actually happened. On November 4th, 2008 Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. The country had elected its first black Chief Executive. And while color was to be transcended in place of the issues while running for office, it certainly needed to be noted that night because holy sh%$, we actually DID transcend it. Surreal is an understatement. For the next 8 years, I watched the former Illinois State Senator, having inherited a struggling economy, overseas involvement and not much trust by Americans in their country’s future, achieve greatness. From jumpstarting the economy by signing the Recovery Act, to repealing Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell, restoring diplomatic ties between the U.S and Cuba, the Affordable Care Act, The Dodd-Frank Act, the list goes on and on. But what I consider to be one of Obama’s greatest accomplishments is the examples he set and portrayed particularly as a man of color. The stigma of the angry, impatient, absentee father is one that is too often associated with Black men. He consistently showed, patience, grace, resilience and perseverance while being met with incredible amounts of resistance and disrespect. His amazing wife and daughters were a testament to the commitment he shared with his wife to making family a priority. He, as they would say, “proved them wrong.”
Yes, I love Obama. And with his imminent exit, I will miss his energy, his passion, his love of this great nation and his desire for ALL of us to believe that together there is nothing we can’t achieve. I would be dishonest if I did not mention my HOPE is waning. That I fear for what may come. But I reflect on the words from that young senator, the one I fell in love with 13 years ago:
“Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.”