Today is Inauguration Day, which marks the official end to the administration of President Barack Obama.
In honor of his departure into the former Presidents Club, I am sharing some pieces that I found interesting, as well as some of my favorite pictures by White House photographer Pete Souza.
First, let’s start with President Obama’s legacy. Washington Monthly did a great roundup of all that he accomplished in two terms. Even though steps are underway to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act, for a time, every American had healthcare. But number 50 on this list should not be ignored. President Obama is the first President since Dwight Eisenhower to serve two terms without any major personal or political scandal.
Let that sink in for a minute. Eisenhower was President from 1953 – 1961.
Since I know some may be struggling today, a little humour is in order. News One put together a list of the best comebacks by President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner. My top two are teasing sworn enemy House Speaker John Boehner (yes, the one who led the charge unsuccessfully to make him a one term President) with “orange is the new black”; and when he literally dropped the mic.
Lastly, I share the Atlantic’s review of 44 photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza. All photos in my blog post are credited to him as well.
On a personal note, I remember the tremendous pride I felt on Election Night 2008, when I saw, after 250 years, a family in the White House that looked like me. A family who reflected my values. A couple that fought the odds to get to the highest office in the land.
I remember when I met the President in 2015 – I was so in awe that words never came out of my mouth. Yes, very shocking, because I am never at a loss for words. But so much was going through my mind and my heart that nothing came out of my mouth. So I will take the moment now to simply say:
From the depths of my soul, thank you President Obama. Thank you for being a role model, for being strong, and for doing the best you could for the American people. History will judge your legacy, and give it the full credit it deserves. This is the end; but I accept this as a challenge to rise and finish the work that was started so long ago. You did your part. I and others will carry the torch on the path to Dr. King’s mountaintop.
My op-ed on criminal justice reform ran last Sunday in the Miami Herald. Enjoy and share your thoughts!
We can create a smarter criminal-justice system
In his final State of the Union Address, President Obama called for criminal-justice reform — one of the most important issues facing the country. The cornerstones of the criminal-justice system have been punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. For too long, the focus has been on the first, with some mention of the second. Rehabilitation has barely been in the equation. This should change — and can change.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 95 percent of inmates are eventually released. What are they coming back to? If you went in without job skills and a solid education, plus an addiction, and your time in prison addressed none of those issues, how are you going to succeed?
I saw disturbing hashtag on Twitter the other morning.
It said #RacistandProud.
While I applaud the efforts of Governor Haley of South Carolina, the representatives and the legislators such as Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, who are fighting to take down the Confederate flag, the bottom line is you cannot legislate the hearts of men and women. Try as we might, we cannot make hatred illegal. Actsof hate, yes. But we need to do more to change the belief systems that lead to the acts of hate.
President Obama made this very point in a recent radio interview which caused quite a stir. People are very focused on his use of the N-word rather than the point he was making. The point is, it’s not about oh, we no longer can say the N-word in public therefore racism is dead. Everyone can drink from the same water fountain. We can use the same bathrooms. We can all enter the same places. Therefore, racism is no longer a problem.
Many people are afraid to even admit racism still exists, let alone even have the dialogue. How are we even to move forward, if people won’t even sit down at the table to have the discussion and hear opposing points of view?
This is why I was so disturbed by the Rachel Dolezal debacle. As you may recall, she was the White woman who was the President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, and had held herself out as African American in recent years. Her lies finally unravelled, resulting in her stepping down from her position in disgrace (but with a few prime time interviews). She, as a White woman, could have been a White female advocate on civil rights and social justice causes. If she had been authentic, she could have helped facilitate this discussion with White America, potentially in a non-confrontational manner. But, this is a missed opportunity — the ship has sailed. Thank God for Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. Jon Stewart uses comedy as a vehicle to take on serious issues of race, making some salient points. In the days after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina Jon Stewart issued a blistering monologue that cut right to the heart of the issue of discussing race in America.
All good people watched in horror as nine innocent people lost their lives while worshiping in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. The bottom line is, the alleged killer, Dylann Roof was not a lone (although he acted alone), mentally ill, marginalized, sad boy who acted in a random manner. If you examine his manifesto his behavior and the flags he wore on his jacket, he is part of a greater movement.
A movement of #RacistandProud.
These are people who want to “take back the country” from what they feel are African Americans “moving above their station”. We as African Americans are no longer slaves, serving our masters the way they deemed we are supposed to be. We are becoming Presidents, Attorney Generals, Senators, Congresswomen, and having real power with the ability to change the world in a positive way. This idea is so revolting, so abhorrent, that the only way to react is to commit acts of murder and terror.
Think this sounds dramatic? Think back into American history, and how when African Americans protested simply for the right to vote and be treated equally, they were beaten and killed. Think about how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the proponent of non-violence, met his end.
So forgive me, if I shudder, when I hear certain politicians say “it’s time to take back our country”…because I’ve heard that language before.
I had the distinct honor and pleasure of being present for the historic installation of Loretta Lynch as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States in May. Two points of foreshadowing arose: first, in her speech, she stated “we do not look to the twin pools of revenge and retribution; we look to the law”. And secondly, the DEA Black and Gold Band played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes as they saluted General Lynch and blessed her for her term.
How ironic that within weeks of this incredible moment, we as a nation would see ourselves looking to the law to give us relief after a horrendous terrorist act against innocents; and hear President Obama make very poignant points (as well as sing) Amazing Grace at the funeral of slain South Carolina pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney.
President Obama reminded us during Senator Pinckney’s eulogy that we are all born with God’s grace — do we choose to use that grace to shine with positivity? Or do we cover that grace with hatred, racism and anger? Do we stand by while racist comments are made in our presence, ignore the cries and plights of others, saying “it’s not my problem”, or “it’s not so bad, they’re being dramatic”?
My heart goes out to Emmanuel AME church. To the victims, you are gone, not forgotten, and your death will not be in vain. As a country, still we rise. We will overcome this, as we have overcome so much adversity in our history. Together. As one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
This is the true meaning of freedom and Independence Day.
In case you missed it, see the stirring rendition of Amazing Grace
The way mainstream media often tells it, you’d think that the only positive trend in the African American community is the President and Michelle Obama.
And depending on the channel, even the President is not a positive trend.
But that is a whole different discussion.
Here is a reminder from my friends at Buzzfeed that the majority of African American young people are doing things other than rioting and committing crimes.
Here is a reminder that for every negative story, there are many positive stories that go unreported. So if one is tempted to dehumanize, demonize, or dismiss an entire race as lost….look at the real evidence here.
Congrats to all the new grads, starting on a new adventure. I won’t lie, the hard work is just beginning. Getting the degree is one thing; building a career is another. But take risks. Don’t be afraid. Now is the time to try different paths. Change cities, changes careers, change your mind. No, you don’t get a work/life balance. Now’s the time to work your butt off. The payoff comes later. I 100% guarantee that the tassle is worth the hassle.
But for today….celebrate, and enjoy this moment. It’s the first of many great moments. You have earned it!!