January 20, 2017, is a few days away and the realities of no more Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House are bittersweet. The sweetness is that they have been an incredible family to represent this great country. The bitter is that the intelligence, dignity and grace that we have come to know and appreciate will be no more.
Like any other competing emotions, we all must find ways to ensure we keep the Obamas in our prayers, hearts and cherish the moments that became endearing to so many around the world.
My memories begin with the pre-Obama election beginning after the 2004 Democratic National Convention where he gave the keynote address and introduced his beautiful and awesome wife. There was no doubt in my mind that Barack Hussein Obama and Michelle Obama were going to be the next President and First Lady of the United States.
I began supporting my belief by standing at Walmart on Saturdays talking about Obama to whoever would listen, primarily people of color that I thought would struggle with the thought of a person of color ascending to the highest office in the land and becoming the leader of the free world.
My thoughts were correct. I was often confronted with two statements: “I am not voting for him simply because he is black” or “I don’t know him.” My response was always the same: “I would not expect you to vote for him simply because he was black.” And would often add that Steve Harvey asserted from the very beginning that that was exactly why he was supporting Obama, and he was proud of it.
President Obama came to the table comfortable and confident with a wife who was unmistakably black and a wife who stood eye to eye to him. Being a woman who is unmistakably black and a woman who stands 5’11” in flats, I knew that Michelle’s physical stature would pose a major threat to some brothers. Then you add to the mix that she was not only Ivy League educated, but she also served as his boss at one point.
Without knowing President Obama personally, I was confident that he was very comfortable in whom he was as a black man. His confidence, added to his own Ivy League training and years in the Illinois State Senate and the U.S. Senate, made me confident that he was the one!
My response to the comment: “I don’t know him” was, “How many presidential candidates do you personally know?” Some would comment they knew Hillary because she had been in the White House. My response to that was often: “Some of the maids have been in the White House too, does that mean they should run for President of the United States?”
Not a very popular response, but a response nonetheless to comments that were baseless and most often coming from a place of fear that someone of color could dare aspire to be the President of the United States.
The next phase down the Obama memory lane would be the announcement that he had been elected as the first African-American president. He had secured 365 Electoral College votes and 52 percent of the popular vote. The moment was surreal and was captured on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times with me having one of the most serious ugly faces crying tears of joy.
One of the first thoughts to come to mind was to wonder if my parents knew from heaven that we had elected the first African-American president and that all three of their children and many of their grandchildren had been afforded the opportunity to cast their votes.
The final phase down the Obama memory lane would be the moment that I had to admit that I didn’t agree with some of his cabinet appointments, nor did I agree with some of his policy decisions. As I have said too many who are either in leadership or want to be in leadership, I have yet to find an individual who I agreed with 100 percent of the time, and that included President Obama!
I have reveled in the fact that in spite of those things I disagreed with President Obama about, I always respected and honored his decision. He made the best decision he could and his motives were always guided by what was in the best interest of this country.
So, my friends as we bid farewell to the Obamas, I will personally keep the lyrics of the Jackson 5’s 1971 Motown release in mind: “I never can say goodbye, no, no, no, no.”
Maria L. Scruggs,
President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP