Screenshot/WhiteHouse.gov: President Obama in final 2016 press conference.
On Oct. 8, 2008, I penned a column for this paper, "A New Underground Railroad," giving my initial thoughts of life under President Barack Obama's leadership. "We shall stand together and announce that we will not fall over and let this journey beat us any longer. We will pick up our brothers who falter along the way. We will encourage each other and remind ourselves of the importance of pressing forward. Barack Obama shall navigate our path along the new Underground Railroad, guiding us to a new nation," I wrote.
Before that year, it was clear to me that I was living in a country that didn't belong to me. I was merely a guest. Laws were not created to protect me. I saw people who looked at me and thought I was beneath them because I didn't look like them. Also, I knew that because of my gender, I knew that many other folk above me would always be chosen first, given better opportunities, and would not have to work as hard as me or others like me. Then, Barack Obama was elected president.
Suddenly, I felt hopeful. Not just because a black man was in the Oval Office, although that was a big part of it. But mostly because this place that I'd existed in suddenly started to look like a place where I might actually mean something. If the world could respect him, maybe they could respect my brothers, my husband, my son. Maybe this place could finally see me and respect me as a person.
Here we are now at the end of his tenure and are left to bask in the great things Obama accomplished. He faced naysayers with quick wit and smiles and stood before us time and time again, owning his failures and offering a plan to resolve and excel. His faith in us, the American family, never wavered. The hope he claimed in 2008 remained even to his farewell address. He championed an America where we could all exist in harmony.
During his farewell address, a now gray-haired POTUS ruled the room, the airwaves and the Internet with as much spirit as he did at his first presidential address. He inspired those whose fire may have been dimmed by fear. He motivated those who continue to fight in their hometowns and on their jobs. He struck hope in the youth who will guide our future. He didn't sugarcoat things or take the credit for the successes. He admitted that there is still much to be done, and even as the road ahead wasn't easy when he started, it won't be easy now that his time has come to an end. But there is still hope. We have a template now. We know how to get things done, and we understand that we can have an important role in how we are governed.
Obama reminds us that "change only happens when ordinary people get involved and become engaged." He came into the office with passion and leaves the office with that same passion. His instruction to us is simple: Keep doing what we have done. We believed that we were important enough to make the world better. We believed him when he told us that we could, and we did. We held onto each other through times that were not easy, times that shook the American spirit to the core. But we persevered together, gathering arm in arm, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder to fight against the evils of the world that want to keep us separated and inferior.
I could spend time here going over all the accomplishments—health care, marriage equality, combating terrorism, discrimination of any kind, etc. The truth is, though, in all of the accomplishments of the administration, the connection I have with him is Obama the man.
I've connected with the husband, the father, and the man who took a job that wasn't set up for him to win and completely rocked it, so much so that the entire country (mostly) is grieving at the thought of him no longer serving as our commander in chief. I find great ease and honor in offering this man my respect.
I struggled as an American prior to the Obama administration. Funny that one man could change that, huh?
Well, I'm not the only one who was changed. And one man didn't do it. He encouraged humanity to serve each other, and for a short time, we listened. Now we must remember that what we have become doesn't have to disappear because Obama is no longer in the White House. No matter who the leader is, the charge of democracy and fairness is our own.
Funmi "Queen" Franklin is a word lover, poet, a truth yeller and community activist. She is the founder of an organization that promotes self love, awareness and sisterhood.