On January 20th, 2009, my president became black. He would stay that way for the next eight years.
I remember how my parents screamed and cried in the living room the night he was elected. As two African immigrants who came to the country many years ago and witnessed the toxicity of America’s dark past, they began to feel that the American dream was not so far removed from the reach of their kids.
That evening, from Grant Park in Chicago, the idealist from Illinois preached, “If there is anyone out there, who still doubts that America is a place where anything is possible… tonight is your answer”.
As a child, I stumbled my way through middle school in a town where 90% of the population was white. With his inauguration, I felt solid proof that I wasn’t so different after all. I listened to the words that rolled from his mouth like silk, and began to believe that one-day, I would talk like that too.
Throughout his presidency, he gently reminded us that though we were different, there was no reason to exclude, or interact with malice and mistrust. During the turbulent times of killings in Ferguson and Baltimore, he taught us that though racism is still alive and well, there’s a peaceful way to approach the rift that divides us so deeply.
I’ll never forget how he sang “Amazing Grace”, at Clementa Pinckney’s funeral In South Carolina, after a deranged fellow walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Church, and killed nine. With that age-old tune, he reminded folks all across America that though the struggle was a difficult one, it was something we were all in together — that no bullet could shatter the American unity.
With that same determined composure, he worked to figure out America’s most divisive issues. How would we be able to get health care to every American? How would we make college more affordable? How will we make sure that our daughters and sisters and mothers are given the same opportunities as our fathers, brothers and sons?
I don’t think Obama is a person I’ll understand until I’m old and grey. I don’t think any of us will understand for a long time how a man fought so hard to lead a country that called him an outsider, and told him he was Muslim, and that he wasn’t born here, and that he was a liar and an abuser of power, and then after eight years of painful progress, threw all of his work away.
We might never understand how any of that happened.
But, we’ll all remember the days when our president was black.