This Black History Month presents a perfect opportunity to not fully let you go, Mr. President. Recalling the campaign slogan of your first outing for president, “Yes We Can!,” the memories of your two successful terms are worth cherishing, and we should all proudly cheer with you, “Yes We Did!”
Now you can join that select pantheon of, so far, American men: former presidents of the United States. Your illustrious rise from community organizer to law professor, from senator to president, made and changed history. But before wondering how you’ll distinguish yourself post-presidentially, it seems fitting to hold back the tide of whatever changes the new administration brings, and glance back with appreciation for eight years of our first African-American president, Barack Hussein Obama.
Toward your final weeks in office you discussed, from your point of view, some of the accomplishments and shortcomings of your two-term presidency with television’s “60 Minutes” journalist Steve Croft. “Part of the job description is shaping public opinion,” you said. And regarding your inability to get a hearing for your final Supreme Court nominee, you confided it was “one of the times during my presidency when I lost the public relations battle.”
Yet your gifts of communication were always at full effect when the nation needed steadiness, strength and sanity to endure our far too frequent tragic events. In the wake of excruciating losses, including Trayvon Martin, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, you stood up for the people of this country, sharing heartbreak and holding hands. We can only imagine your personal grief, called upon to calm our collective nerves in the aftermath of mass shootings a total of 14 times! Admittedly, you were deeply disappointed by the difficulty to move legislation on gun safety, even as you were aptly dubbed our Comforter-in-Chief.
We witnessed a peak of your steadfastness in the storm when you eulogized the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who along with eight other religious leaders, was mercilessly murdered in June 2015 in a Charleston, S.C., church.
All American presidents are looked upon to help navigate the nation through the traumas of war, terror or natural disaster. Few, if any, have ever exhibited the compassionate humility and emotional fortitude it took you, President Obama, to sing Amazing Grace at the memorial service for the Charleston 9.
Early in your presidency, there was much hand-wringing among many of us who feared for the safety of our first Black president and his family. That fear called to mind our historically borne out, deeply felt vulnerability to be targeted and victimized. Thankfully, those who are hate-filled and deranged did not successfully plot against the safety of our beloved newcomers to the highest profile of American public life.
Regrettably, the Obama years saw near epidemic levels of violence against unarmed Black citizens. And the Black Lives Matter movement sprouted and gained traction during those years. As you struggled to remain a force for healing, you were often criticized for not doing enough to suppress racial tensions.
But just as you confronted deep Republican opposition to your political agenda from day one, you approached every tide of resistance and hostility with remarkable composure under pressure, great personal character and intellect. Others should emulate these qualities. Despite concern and uncertainty over what comes next, many can agree with CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria’s summation, “America’s bet with Obama paid off.”
Thank you, Mr. President.