I often find myself looking for memories of my childhood that aren’t always there. Yet, what I guess I can call one of my first memories is something I can never let go or forget.
Three months before this memory, Barack Obama, a black man, was elected into the highest office in the land. I did not understand then. I did not know the importance of this event. How could I?
As my 4th grade class gazed at the TV on Inauguration Day, 2009, I don’t think any of us knew. I remember seeing my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, a black woman, sobbing. Her tears were joyous, a release after hundreds of years of oppression, the modern implications of which none of us knew or understood. But, in that exact moment, as I saw the happy tears of a community, I think I experienced true empathy for the first time. It was a day that — as cliche as this sounds — changed my life.
When I looked at Mrs. Brown, my black classmates, Maya Angelou on the TV, and of course, Barack Obama, I knew that something was owed to them. They had been given the short end of the stick, the last pick, and they deserved all the love in the world. They still deserve all the love in the world. Obama was a step toward that deserved love. I remember hearing the final stanza of Maya Angelou’s inaugural poem:
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
That last line stuck with me.
America was not throwing away the struggles of our past. We couldn’t. Although we had every reason not to say good morning, not to get out of bed, we did. To me, Obama was the gut jolt that pushed us out of bed. That mysterious motivation that I truly never understand. He pushed us to understand why we needed to get out of bed. He pushed us to move forward.
If you know me, you know I go through life just trying to love. Love is not something said, but something felt. Love is the basis of everything in this world, every emotion. Love makes us alive. I firmly believe that this world cannot work unless everyone goes through life acting upon their love.
Obama taught America how to love again and for that, Mr. President, I thank you. I could sit here and thank Obama for the progressive policies and government actions that he took in the past eight years, but his presidency has meant much more.
Through every struggle of my life in the past eight years, Obama’s message of hope pushed me through and made me take action to reach for the life and world I want. Obama showed me that there is a better day on the horizon for myself and for my country. Obama instilled a new type of hope, a hope for everyone.
I am now and will always be thankful that I was raised during the Obama administration. He taught me that there is always a better day ahead and that it is not something we just have to wait for. That better day comes from listening, being active, being present and, most importantly, by loving ourselves and others. Obama taught me that it is not your circumstances that define you but the way you deal with your circumstances.
He, for me, embodied the idea of respect. The idea that we should never settle. The idea that you can make it to the top by loving. The idea that anyone regardless of circumstance or social barriers placed around them can move forward and have the opportunity to live a life of freedom. He created hope. He was hope.
So, in the wise words of some kid from Hawaii:
Yes, we can.
Yes, we did.
Yes, we can.
Yes, we will.