From the moment I awoke, angst wrapped itself around me. This was the day I, and countless people around the world, never wanted to see. This was the day Barack and Michelle Obama would bid our country farewell as President and First Lady.
My emotions were scattered. In one moment, I felt a hollowness similar to when I lose a loved one. In another, the now familiar sense of despair about what will become of this country without President Obama’s leadership. Then in the next, a gripping sadness that the golden era of Obama was now over. But it was not until I saw the status update of a Facebook friend that I was able to aptly characterize my feelings. She said that the departure of the Obamas felt like a bad break up. That is exactly what it felt like. My eight-year love affair with the Obamas was ending. And although I knew the day would one day come when they would leave, and take Malia, Sasha, Mrs. Robinson, Bo, and Sunny right along with them, it still hurt like hell.
For black folks especially, the Obamas were everything. They were our own black American royalty. And what they did for our race and culture is immeasurable, and will never be forgotten. I remember the collective elation we felt during Barack Obama’s first inauguration on January 20, 2009. What every generation prior declared impossible had become a reality. A black man was now the leader of the free world. No longer would a dream be deferred. Barack Obama claimed what America had for centuries denied. I remember tears streaming down my checks and brimming with pride as I watched him clutch his wife’s hand and raise them in victory. My greatest hope in that moment was that my grandparents, born in the early 19th century South, along with all of the other dearly departed elders, were enraptured by the same jubilation as our nation.
And it is during these dark uncertain days that we celebrate and mourn what Barack Obama gifted us. The truth is much of it will not remain. Gifts like the Affordable Care Act which, albeit not perfect, lowered the cost of health care and covered millions of Americans. Gifts like reducing the unemployment rate and stimulating economic growth. Gifts like repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ which freed gay people from the imprisonment of silence while serving in the military. Gifts like increasing the expansion of Pell Grants to low-income students. Gifts like dismantling longstanding sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses that for decades buttressed mass incarceration. Gifts like the ‘gainful employment’ regulations that put an end to the profit-driven practices of many for-profit schools that left graduates either underemployed or unemployed while drowning in a sea of student loan debt. Gifts like the expansion of Hate Crimes protections. Gifts like the end of the war in Iraq and the scaling down of troops in Afghanistan. And the gift of ordering the special forces raid that led to the capture and demise of Osama Bin Laden. And even during his last days in office, Barack Obama gifted 330 commutations totaling a record 1,715. This and more is the legacy of Barack Obama. And I am grateful.
The Husband and Father
But beyond his leadership, Barack Obama was the quintessential family man. In a world where negative representations of the black man abound, Barack Obama changed the narrative. His enduring love and commitment to his wife and daughters cast a deserving light on the existence of such black men. Whether carrying Sasha on the elevator of their private residence after leaving the Oval Office in the White House, or hopping on the mic to sing Happy Birthday to Malia for all the world to see, Barack Obama unabashedly loved his girls, which made us adore them all the more. They were our little sisters in our heads, and we were their gatekeepers. So did anyone find out who dared try it with them.
But it was the love shared by Barack and Michele Obama that made us fall so deeply in love with them as a couple. Many a ‘relationship goals’ was crafted from his and the First Lady’s. A bond as strong and true is to what many of us now aspire. Whether fist-bumping at an election night rally, or smooching in front of a jumbotron at the Olympics, or slow dancing to a Beyonce-serenaded rendition of the Etta James’ classic, ‘At Last,’ they became our romantic muse. Theirs was that special kind of love that when others went low, it only ascended higher. Their love was so much more than President and First Lady. It was real. It was classy. It was committed. It was brilliant. It was black. It was beautiful.
Never again will we see a President who can smoothly belt out the lyrics of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ on one day, and deliver a soul-stirring speech on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches on another. Nor will we again see a First Lady who has the ability to glide through the audience and play comedic while co-hosting the ‘Ellen Show,’ but go on to unleash one of the most memorable, and oft-quoted speeches of our time. This was the magical and magnificent mystique of Barack and Michelle Obama.
So as we move forward, let us continue to be inspired by and determined to carry on the legacy called Obama within our families, communities, and throughout our country. For certain, the Obamas will continue with their important work. And we should continue with ours. For there is much to be done. And it is precisely during this new day of dissonance that we must resist whenever our great democracy is threatened, and resoundingly declare, ‘Yes, we can.’