Barack Hussein Obama first gained national attention when he gave a powerful keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He would parlay that appearance and his inspiring message from his post as an Illinois congressman to the White House four years later, becoming America’s first Black president at the age of 47.
Many Americans, especially those in the Black community, celebrated his election weeks after the final votes were tallied. We had finally made it from the “outhouse to the White House.” We had finally seen something happen that most believed was all but impossible in a country where only a few decades ago had been embroiled in a painful battle in which Blacks refused to accept nothing less than full citizenship and equal rights.
In addition, the first family, from start to finish, never relinquished being unapologetically Black.
With his equally competent wife, Michelle, who exemplified style and grace at their highest level by his side, America’s “coolest” president (sorry, Bill Clinton), along with their two adorable daughters who would grow up before our eyes, he fought vigorously to achieve the lofty goals first presented during his first presidential campaign.
Throughout his two terms he would face unprecedented Republican obstruction — first from a rising Tea Party and then from a GOP-dominated Senate that gained control after the 2015 election. Nonetheless, he managed to rescue the economy from a devastating recession, brought the automobile industry from the brink of disaster, put an end to George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, reformed legislation associated with the War on Drugs — laws which disproportionately impacted people of color and reducing the federal prison population — and increased health care coverage for an estimated 20 million Americans under the auspices of his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.
Obama will also be remembered for putting two women on the Supreme Court, making it possible for women to serve in combat alongside LGBTQ soldiers and giving gays and lesbians the long-sought after right to marry in all 50 states.
Of course there were setbacks and failures too.
Meanwhile, we who represent America’s 200-plus Black-owned newspapers as members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, remained disappointed that we were unable to secure a meaningful, face-to-face meeting with the president during his two terms where we could address issues specifically germane to our communities. But we’re hopeful that as the numerous obligations he once faced as president lessen after Donald Trump takes over, we’ll get the chance to query Obama on issues which for some Blacks, are still life-threatening.
Obama promised to bring change to America and he achieved success, albeit limited. But that change for which he fought each day for all Americans still stands as something our country sorely needs.