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#Forever44: Thank You, President Obama

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Image of me with then Sen. Obama in 2008. In the photo is a young light-skinned Black woman in a wheelchair with a tall light-skinned Black man leaning next to her. Both people are smiling for the camera.

Today is the last day we will have Barack Obama as our President.  It was not until yesterday that this reality hit me hard emotionally.

For eight years, I saw a family that looked like me in the White House.  For eight years, I had a First Lady who exemplified the excellence and grace of Black womanhood, and empowered Black young women like myself to achieve and strive beyond our hopes and dreams.  

I remember the first time I met our President, who was Senator Obama at the time.  He was doing a college campus tour in South Carolina for the SC Primary in January 2008, and I lucked out to get a ticket to attend the event held on my campus (Winthrop University).  I did not know much about him, but I was fascinated that a Black man was running for president who stood a good chance of winning.  (I remember when Rev. Al Sharpton and Alan Keyes ran when I was a teenager, but their chances were not as close as it was for then Sen. Obama.)  

I skipped class to attend the event (as a nerd, I NEVER skipped class unless I was sick, so this was obviously a big deal), and headed to McBride Hall to see this Democratic contender for the coveted seat.  The energy in the room was infectious – “fired up! ready to go!” was alive and well.  As the event began, I saw this Black man command the room with his voice, spirit, and gumption for what he knew he deserved to have – to be our Nation’s next president.  I watched in awe of him, and knew instantly that the hoopla surrounding him was accurate – this man was different, and we all felt it.  

After the event, I wanted to get a picture with him because that would be my keepsake for missing class.  Of course, everyone rushed to meet him and shake his hand, and I wheeled back from the crowd and got the attention of someone who looked like they were a part of future POTUS’ team.  That person was his right-hand man, Reggie Love.  I told Reggie that I wanted a picture with him, and Reggie said that he would try to see if he could make it happen.  After the crowd died down, Reggie got me near the front of the stage to meet Sen. Obama.  I shook his hand, and smile.  I asked him if I could get a picture with him, and he said yes.  

Having him say yes was huge for me.  He did not hesitate or appear like he was being bothered – he was happy to do it.  For me, being a 22 years old graduating senior, that showed me the kind of person and President he would be – the People’s President.  We went to the other side of the Hall to take the photo, which was the entranceway he used to get into the building.  He had one of his security personnel snap the photo, and we said some pleasantries before we parted.  

When I went back inside the Hall, the few attendees that remained were so excited that I got a personal picture with him.  Was I geeked?  HECK YES.  I texted the image to my family, and uploaded onto Facebook – everyone freaked out.  Honestly, getting that picture with him was the highlight of the semester (besides graduating).

For the rest of 2008, I watched him win the Democratic nomination, and proudly voted for him that November.  On election night, me and my Grandmother (my beloved “Big V”) anxiously viewed the votes being tallied, and held our breath as the numbers crept up to the point where he had the magic number of 270.  I remembered us crying that night; my Grandmother said that she never thought she would see a Black man as president.  At that time, she was 79 years old, born and raised in small town SC and lived through moments of history that I read about in textbooks.  I remember the pride she had in her voice when she said, “we got our first Black president – my God.”  Now that my Grandmother has passed away, I am happy that she lived long enough to vote for our President twice, and to be a part of such history that she could not have fathomed.  

Though I may not have agreed with President Obama on every action he has undertaken, I am content with the legacy he fought hard to create and protect.  President Obama underwent unspeakable adversary because he was the First.  His entire presidency showed how even when you have the highest position in the country, you are not immune to racism or racists seeking to not allow you to be great.  Despite many attempts to make him a one-term president and to not support his initiatives, he still found ways to leave the impact he wanted.  Sometimes I wonder how greater his legacy would have been if he had the full support of Congress, and when I think of that, it angers me that we will never know.  However, the stances he has taken on the rights of marginalized people cannot be ignored.  I am glad to know and befriend many advocates who worked for the President – their fervent love and support for him are undeniable.  I still will relish in the fact that I got to go to the White House last February, an experience I cannot believe I had.  

President Obama, thank you for making inclusion a priority in your Administration.  Thank you for giving us eight years, and sharing yourself and your family with us.  Thank you for being the People’s President and for making the White House Our House.  Thank you for not being afraid to show emotions when you were angered or saddened – seeing that allowed us to know you had a heart, and not some stoic figure living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Thank you for not giving up on doing right when people were steadfast on blocking your ability to do so.  Thank you for being the example of what a Black man is that shattered stereotypes – a loving father, a caring husband, and a man who clings to his morals and faith.  Lastly, thank you for marrying up – as a single woman, it gives me hope that men will appreciate women who are 1/10th of the warmth, brilliance, and just damn amazing as Michelle is.  

Today is the last day of your presidency, and I am not ready.  “My President Is Black” is the mantra for today as it plays in my house.  For eight years, I, and this country, had you as our President, and I hope you know how many of us prayed for you and supported you throughout.  

For the last time I will say, thank you, President Obama,
Vilissa

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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