It has been incredibly difficult to process President Obama's impact on me. For years, the idea of an African-American becoming President of the United States was not a concept I could comprehend. But, there he was back in 2004, stepping onto the national scene in that dynamic primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention. So young. So smooth. So poignant. You remember that speech, right?
I'd heard about him prior to that speech, but after it and after reading Dreams From My Father, I was all in. I supported his U.S. Senate campaign even though he wasn't representing my state. I talked him up to anyone who'd listen. I gave him my support, even though I questioned his timing, when then Senator Obama decided to run for President. I talked to family and friends about why I was voting for him. I believed in his passion, his purpose, and his poise. He wasn't given much of a chance. It's wasn't his time. I hoped that he would at least be in the running for Vice-President. But, then he started to win primaries in states like Iowa. I started to believe. He told us, "Yes, we can." And we believed. He defeated the heavily favored Hillary Clinton. So many of us were overcome with joy. Never before had election results made me weep. Was this really happening? It most certainly was. A Black man was the Presidential nominee for one of our major political parties!
I remember spending that evening with my wife at an Election Night event, looking around the room. The people in attendance were so happy, so motivated, so inspired. He started to win some of those battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. And we all knew what was about to happen. He shocked the world by defeating Senator John McCain in the general election. History I never thought I'd live to see. President Barack Hussein Obama!
Many of us were concerned he might not win reelection, especially after his disastrous first Presidential debate against Mitt Romney. But, our fears were assuaged as he won his bid for reelection!
There are so many moments to share: I could talk about the 102 year old woman who waited hours to vote for him. Or the look on my daughter's face when we saw an envelope from the White House at our doorstep. President Obama had responded to a letter my daughter sent him! I could talk about speaking with my grandmother after the election in 2008 and asking her what she was feeling. She told me she never imagined seeing a Black man become President. It warmed her heart and soul and brought tears to her eyes. I could discuss what it was like to teach young students after the election and how joyous those young folks were, especially the students of color. Or I could discuss what it meant taking my daughter to the polling booth to vote a second time for Barack Obama. Or seeing people I knew for years change political affiliations, volunteer and/or donate to a political campaign for the first time, and attend rallies. I could even discuss what it was like to attend his second inauguration. Or I could wax poetically about this picture, which is a reminder of the historical significance of our first African-American President.
But, instead, I want to focus on how his example inspired me primarily in two profound ways: parenting and advocacy. Although I only viewed his parenting from a distance, he has always seemed to embrace his role as father. He and I both grew up without our biological fathers in our lives. So, I watched and listened to him when he discussed fatherhood and being a father.
Honestly, I follow his lead. I want to break the cycle of negligent fathers in my family. I want to be the best father I can be to my now 5 year old daughter, Camilla. I want to be the kind of father that inspires other fathers.
President Obama has also inspired me to be more politically active. I write for and work with fathers across the country. I spend time advocating for parental leave, women's equality, and marriage equality. I am now strongly considering running for political office in New York City. This is the impact of President Obama. He has truly motivated so many of us to do more and not settle. For this, and much more, I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Mr. President for helping me reinvent myself in such a positive way.
President Obama has been a symbol of grace, intelligence, humility and humanity during his eight years in office. He established the Affordable Care Act, brought us back from financial ruin, pushed for marriage equality, and made The White House the people's house. He's been willing to have the tough conversations and make the tough decisions. He has dealt with behavior and comments and overall commentary that has been unusually unfair, but has handled himself with the greatest of dignity. President Obama has been the type of person we should want holding our nation's highest office. I recently said to my daughter how happy I am that he has been her president for all 5+ years of her life. She responded by saying she was happy he was also my president. And she's right. I am grateful to have experienced the Obama presidency. I will miss his leadership, but remain hopeful. Hopeful that his work is not yet done. Hopeful that he will continue to inspire young people like my daughter to a life committed to helping others. Hopeful to meet him and thank him in person. But, until that happens, I say, again, thank you, President Obama.
(One of the more moving tributes to President Obama was this concert that BET Network sponsored. Joy, respect, and passion were on display in ways we haven't seen and are not likely to see again anytime soon. This is a beautiful testament to Barack and Michelle.)