On January 10, President Barack Obama bade farewell to a nation from a podium in his hometown of Chicago. He spoke from the final dying embers of his eight years, with a measured optimism in regards to the following four. He dared Republicans to put together a health care system more universal and cost-effective than the Affordable Care Act, he made clear, once again, his stance on the immigration of those of the Islamic faith, and he urged Americans to be united in the face of our ostensibly overwhelming divides. Before he finished, he offered one final hurrah: yes we can.
When I was nine years old, I attended a rally for Senator Obama. I sat up high on a dumpster to see over the swelling crowd, and I listened carefully as his words echoed off of the fences and trees. I didn’t understand what single-payer healthcare was, and I had to look up the word “audacity” in my dictionary, but I remember feeling the verve and fervor of this man and his supporters as a sort of tangible force. The people at the rally were excited, and never angry or disillusioned. The young senator spoke with ambition and poise, and he was just oh so very cool.
Later during that election season, we were assigned in school to craft a sign for one of the candidates. I proceeded to draw an exceptionally large Obama face with a crayon American flag and a few red and blue “yes we can” s. I remember my father asking me, when I brought home my sign, why I had failed to color in Obama’s skin. To my father, Obama was the first black man to have a real shot at winning the presidency, but to me, he was just a man who was inspired, and who instilled hope. To my father, a black man being president would be a tremendous racial milestone for the nation. But to me, it didn’t seem to matter. Barack Obama was and remains a man of character, integrity and patience. He insisted that we listen to each other—that our nation was not comprised of a Republican America or Democrat America, a black America or a white America, a wealthy America or a poor America—there was only one America, and that out of many, we were one. That message was what I felt atop the dumpster and it is what I feel now.
President Obama taught me how to have dignity in myself and in my community. He taught me to be foolishly bold in the face of the insurmountable. He taught me to be gentle, and patient, and good.
And he taught me to get going, for there is work to be done, always.
Farewell, Mister President.