10 Times President Obama Gave Me Hope For My Child's Future
Nearly nine years ago, I was leading my first solo lesson as a student-teacher when a secret service agent walked into the second grade classroom where I stood. “Senator Obama is about to get into his car right outside your classroom. If you guys are good, you can come say hi to him.” Stunned and ecstatic, my cooperating teacher and I bundled the kids in their coats and ushered them outside, just in time to greet Mr. Obama as he emerged from his hotel. This was one of the first moments when President Obama gave me hope for my children's futures, even though I wasn't yet a mother.
As we gathered in the chilly Philadelphia alleyway separating our school from his hotel, his entire face lit up when the kids, unprompted, cried out, “Hi, Senator Obama!” in that perfect, song-like way kids do. Though he was due any minute at the National Constitution Center to give what would be one of the most important speeches on race during a presidential campaign, the man who would be president months later stopped to chat, shake every single student’s hands, and take photos with us like we were his only priority for the day. I was overcome with excitement and gratitude, to unexpectedly be in the presence the person I was supporting for president, and to see that he was just as warm and inspiring in person as he appeared to be behind a podium. When he finally got in his car to give his speech, we gave him the biggest, most enthusiastic send-off we could muster. Thoroughly charmed, the students played “Senator Obama Says” (their adaptation of Simon Says), every day at recess for weeks afterward.
Now, I have disagreed with President Obama heartily on certain issues. I am a staunch supporter of public schools and an outspoken opponent of test-and-punish education policy, which his first education secretary was known for. I'm pretty far to virtually everyone’s left when it comes to matters of national security and surveillance, so of course I often disagreed with him there, as well. And like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe healthcare should be a matter of right, not luck in birth, marriage or employment, so I wanted (and still want) what ultimately became the ACA to be a single-payer plan, though I recognize the difficulty in getting something like that done at the time. Indeed, I recognize that it’s unlikely for any president to be my perfect match on every single issue, because they have to be a leader for the whole country, not just me.
So isolated policy differences aside, I can't even begin to describe what it has meant to me to have the Obamas in the White House. It has been so affirming to see this beautiful, Black First Family there, and few people of any color are as kind, brilliant, and inspirational as Barack and Michelle. "Heartbreaking" doesn't begin to describe what it feels like to have to watch this dignified, accomplished, Black man hand this most important office to the chosen candidate of the Ku Klux Klan and American neo-Nazis. And "terrifying" doesn't begin to describe what it feels like to watch a tantrum-prone man who can't even control himself on Twitter, get control of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, as well as a pen (and a GOP-controlled Congress) capable of signing away so many hard-won rights for women, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, non-Christians, and the LGBT community.
The moral arc of the universe feels so much longer today than it did at this moment eight years ago.
But even before kids were on my horizon, President Obama made me feel better about the prospect of having them, because I got to see for myself how much he cares for kids. More than that, his campaign and his presence in the office represented the power of savvy digital organizing combined with positive, unifying ideals; two things that are available to all of us, no matter what we want to accomplish. That matters, because those of us who actually want this country to live up to its ideals have our work cut out for us, and we can't afford to despair. Our kids and grandchildren are depending on us, and we'll all have to account for what we did (or didn't do) in the coming weeks, months, and years when one of the most regressive regimes in our nation's history came to power.
I won’t be watching or participating in anything related to the Inauguration. Instead, I’ll be writing, planning, and organizing, inspired by our country’s greatest women and men. I’ll also replay lots of moments like the following, when we were led by someone who appealed to the best in us — our highest hopes and ideals — instead of our worst.
When He Electrified The 2004 Democratic National Convention
Way back in ‘04, kids were a long-off possibility for me and nowhere near a thing I was contemplating. But when I heard him speak, I instantly knew that, someday, that man would be president.
The fact that that president would look like me and my future children, was heartening in a way I didn’t yet fully understand.
When He Won The Iowa Caucus
By the time then-Senator Obama declared his candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination, I knew that I liked him and what he stood for. But I assumed that white folks would never vote for a brown dude named Obama, so I didn’t get too attached to his candidacy. So when he actually won in Iowa, I was very pleasantly surprised. His win there demonstrated that folks weren’t as racially hardened as I’d assumed, and illustrated that smart campaigning could overcome a political dynasty. My still-future kids, a little nearer on the horizon, might not have to struggle as much as I’d assumed.
When He Gave His “More Perfect Union” Speech
Race remained the elephant in the room throughout that campaign season. So when he addressed the issue head on in an eloquent speech in Philadelphia, it was a big moment. Though Obama has since shown himself to be cautious on matters of racism and racial tension — understandable, given the number of targets on his back as the first Black president — this was still a big, delicate move that few candidates before him had been willing to attempt. To me, it signaled that my future kids would be born into a country that has substantive conversations on pressing problems, a crucial first step to solving them.
When He Won The 2008 Election
I’ll never forget how excited I was watching the election returns, and the moment I realized he’d clinched 270 electoral votes. Through tears and so much champagne, I started to feel good enough about the state of the world to start seriously considering motherhood.
While Watching His First Swearing In Ceremony With My Fourth Graders
The look on my former students’ faces while we watched President Obama take the Oath of Office is forever etched in my memory. My fourth grade class, all students of Black, Latinx, and Asian descent, were so excited about Obama’s candidacy, so we’d spent the fall learning all about elections, campaigns, and how our government works.
In their 8 and 9 short years of life, they’d already become quite aware of how atypical it was to see people of color in positions of leadership. As we watched his swearing in, there was an unmistakable light of possibility shining in their eyes. It occurred to me then that my own kids would never even know a country where it had seemed impossible for anyone but white men to lead.
Every Time He Took His Job As A Role Model To Kids Seriously
Barack Obama genuinely loves kids in a way that is so heartwarming, as a former educator, always child advocate, and now mom. Anytime he addresses kids, or even just spends time with them, it’s clear he really cares and wants to find ways to make the world a better place for them.
When He Signed The Affordable Care Act
Though I’m still looking forward to the day we have a public single-payer health care system, the passage of the Affordable Care Act meant that I could actually afford to have kids, because it requires insurers to fully cover routine prenatal care and children’s well visits.
(For all their talk of being “pro-life,” so far, the GOP has yet to come up with a replacement that accomplishes the same thing.)
When He Was Funny AF At His Last White House Correspondents’ Dinner
President Obama has had a lot of funny and trenchant moments in his second term, and I have really appreciated it. The presidency is a powerful office, but it’s also constrained by the Constitution and the usual norms of political decorum. At Obama’s last White House Correspondents’ Dinner, we again glimpsed the possibility of President Obama getting to be a more forceful voice for change, now that he has no more campaigns left to run. That's an exciting prospect.
When He Talked About Reclaiming Our Democracy In His Farewell Address...
It never has been, and never will be, the job of any one person to grant or take away our freedoms. It’s on all of us to do the hard work of claiming our power, and ensuring that America actually becomes the land of the free that it has yet to be for many of us.
So when President Obama told us all that “I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours,” I sat up and resolved to keep working for a better world for myself and my kids, no matter who occupies the White House or Congress.
...And When He Beamed With Love And Pride While Talking About His Family
Barack and Michelle Obama routinely display the kind of love and affection previously reserved for romantic comedies. Watching him tear up as he praised his wife and daughters in his farewell address was yet another example of what true love really looks like. President Obama is an example of what it looks like for men to honor their families as much as (or more than) they do their public and professional obligations.
Though the ascendancy of Donald Trump is undoubtedly a step back for those of us who care about equality and progress, seeing one of the most powerful men in the world model what it looks like to be a loving, caring, feminist father gives me hope that this will continue to be the norm for decent men in the world my son is growing up in, regardless of what the minority of people who support Donald Trump have to say about it.