As I sit next to my four year old in my living room, I listened to the cheering crowd welcoming President Obama onto the stage in Chicago. My daughter is as excited as the crowd in Chicago and she excitedly claims, “Look mommy! It’s my favorite, President Obama!” I hear his first words, “My fellow Americans….” and reality starts to set in: this is his farewell address, the days of the Obama presidency are coming to an end.
After taking a couple of minutes to let this sink in, I start to focus on the powerful words in the message he is giving. Obama begins his address by acknowledging that democracy has not always been great and that it’s constantly challenging.
“For every two steps forward…we take one back,” he stated. He addressed the impacts that race has on our democracy. Race threatens a democracy, especially during such divisive political times. Instead of furthering this divide, Obama encouraged the country to embrace the children of immigrants and invest in them for the benefit of the economy. He boldly stated “Those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce,” followed by an almost instant eruption of applause from his audience.
Obama’s farewell address wasn’t just impactful because of his role for eight years, but also for the role that First Lady, Michelle Obama played as well. Michelle Obama’s impact on me as an educator has been massive. Through her work and words, I was constantly reminded that our young people are our greatest treasure. Every single student I work with is capable of greatness if they are met with the right supports, Michelle was a constant advocate for this. For educators to achieve this, we need to cultivate relationships to increase motivation and constantly remind our young people that they are capable of greatness.
Obama ended his address with a final call to action around the need to rebuild our country. Social change is necessary, but it needs to happen through people being aware of one another and open to different perspectives. The President stressed a clear call for unity and restoration of purpose in the nation.
Despite the divisiveness in our country currently, President Obama made a clear call to action to all of us as citizens of the United States. He stated that voting rates are at the lowest, and we need to make it easier to vote, not add more limitations. For impoverished communities, it means “grabbing a clipboard” and getting folks registered to vote and making polling places more accessible. Any organizer knows that the work is not easy, but there is an urgency to “show up, dive in, stay at it.” I owe it to my daughter, and we, as a country, owe it to your young people to continue to organize and fight to ensure our democracy is one that works for everyone. Young people, the next generation, have an amazing capacity to make a change, but we have work to begin. As we near the end of Obama’s presidency and enter a time of uncertainty about what’s on the horizon for our country’s politics, I am left with Obama’s final words: “Yes we can, yes we did, yes we can.”
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