Obama, Thank You

President Barack Obama is loved and hated for different reasons by whites and blacks. For many rural whites and bigoted racists, Obama is seen as a foreigner who epitomizes the dismantling of white supremacy. Blacks vary in their love-hate relationship with Obama. Some see him as a mixed black man who did not push the agenda hard enough for equal rights and black respect in this country.

For me, Obama was like Jackie Robinson during his day: the right man for the right time, even though he wasn’t the best baseball player. He was the American President responsible for 300 million people and their desires, while ending two wars, saving a crumbling economy, restoring jobs, providing health care for those less fortunate, adjusting to the white leftist liberals who demanded he address their agendas, ensuring immigrants were treated as people and paving the way for dreamers to believe.

President Obama was strategic by using Attorney General Eric Holder and First Lady Michelle Obama to be his mouthpiece on the racial and polarized nature of his time in office. First Lady Michelle helped to legitimize his presidency among black women, Latinos, and other minority subgroups. Attorney General Holder pushed for criminal reform and was often outspoken about reversing age-old drug and other systemically racist laws that entrap minorities.

In retrospect, Obama became “black conscious” in public view when he said Trayvon Martin could have been him or his own son. He likely did not think at the time that there would be an uptick of harmful vigilante and police brutality against unarmed black men and women. It would be Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and countless others who suffered in the American revisionist history of the “post-racial Obama era.” When Obama spoke up, his words felt like a temporary band-aid. However, Fox News and other conservative media outlets would mark him as divisive, accusing him of racially politicizing these events. It was a racist and undermining approach to neutralize Obama.

President Obama’s speech after the Charleston church massacre of our nine brothers and sisters killed by evil, opened up an emotional tone and put Obama on the pathway to touching us with Amazing Grace while exposing the systemic whiteness of America. His last couple of years in office revealed him as more defiant, and more assertive in talking about race. We can disagree on policy and what Obama could have done for us, but no one can deny what the Obamas did for us in terms of image. A black family lived in a house built by slaves and they made us believe in ourselves. The Obamas overshadowed what VH1 and BET tried to cast us as: ignorant, ghetto, and dramatic. President Barack Obama allowed a little black boy to touch his head and feel his hair; this image spoke to me and millions of boys who saw that they could be more than a rapper or basketball player. They could be President.

So, as we say goodbye to you Obama, we will never forget what you have represented. I’ve believed in you since 2006, when you spoke at my alma mater Georgetown. I connected with you in your book “The Audacity of Hope.” I cried on November 4, 2008 when CNN declared you President at 11:00 p.m. I ran to to the White House from Georgetown’s Black House in the rain as if I and you were one. President Obama, despite what many may say about you, all I can say is thank you. You opened doors for the future of many black leaders who will also thank you. It’s not farewell, it’s until later. Outside of the Oval Office, I hope you continue to inspire change in cities like Chicago so that our people who are suffering can find resolution and hope.

By Anthony Peña

Anthony Peña was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and attended Georgetown University where he graduated with a Bachelors of Science in the School of Foreign Service. He undertook an opportunity to be a Teach for America teacher in Baltimore, and is currently the Dean of Students at a middle school in Baltimore. Anthony began a non-profit organization called Brothers In Action, Inc. that mentors young black and Latino males in Baltimore. His focus is always about leaving the world in a better place than when he found it.