Dear Mr. President,
The White House ― the official residence of the President of the United States of America, a symbol of power, leadership, history, influence, and capacity, was built by black men and women, most of whom were slaves.
As far as we have come as a people, no black man has ever occupied this historical building, or even thought it was possible for a black man to occupy the White House, until that monumental day on November 4, 2008, when you, Barack Hussein Obama, were elected the 44th President of the United States of America.
From the south side of Chicago, to the desk of the Oval Office, you did something extraordinary: You called the White House your home.
The very next day, November 5, 2008, my husband rushed to the newsstand to buy the official Washington Post paper, with the Obama family on the front cover. Then it was pure euphoria on January 20, 2009, when you stood in front of the Capital Building reciting the presidential oath.
On one of the coldest days of the year, a new chapter was being written in the history books of the free world. Tears were coming down, a sense of accomplishment and pure happiness was overwhelming me, my hands were shaking, and I was literally at a loss for words ― I just stood and watched in amazement, frozen in time, as you, a black man, became President of the United States.
People were rejoicing from every race, creed and culture. I felt a sense of unity. But as you know, the story doesn’t end there; it happened all over again in 2013 when you were sworn in for a second term as the 44th President of the United States of America.
That morning, I reached over and hugged the white stranger next to me with tears coming down her face, because we just had this instant connection ― we knew we were in this together.
But why does your presidency mean so much to me? I’ll tell you why. When I was a little girl, my mother used to make my sisters and I go to the local black history celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day EVERY ― SINGLE ― YEAR.
Man, I hated going to those ceremonies ― the speeches were always long, my mother always made us sit quietly, and we were always led in singing the same song every year with so many words, I could never remember them.
It wasn’t until about the fourth grade when I actually listened to the lyrics of that song we would always sing on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and it was in that moment that I finally understood it all. This wasn’t just a “day off” to sleep in and eat cereal in our pajamas; this day was about the accomplishments and the journey of the people who came before us.
This song, first written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, was a proclamation of the civil rights movement, a confirmation of our acceptance to continue our journey for justice, and an affirmation that victory, one day would be won.
The first portion of the song, which I now know was the Black National Anthem, says:
Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the listening skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us, Facing the rising sun of our new day begun Let us march on till victory is won.
And on that cold, inauguration day in January, victory had finally been won. You became a symbol of triumph, a symbol of a people, a symbol of equality, a manifestation of the hope that anyone can become and accomplish anything.
As a little girl growing up in rural, western Pennsylvania, I was always looking for a way to fit in. No one else looked like me, except for some of my sisters, of course.
And one of my most vivid memories of grade school was the day one of my best friends said to me, “My mom said I can’t play with you because you’re mixed.”
I went home after school to tell my parents what happened, and the very next day, my dad marched up to the school to set them straight. Instances like this occurred every once in a blue moon, even after my mother became the first black president of the school board at my school district.
Because of you, I am hopeful that my children will never hear words like these. I am hopeful that children of their generation will remember a black man as the President of the United States, and understand that we should never be judged by the color of our skin, but only by the content of our character.
As the mother of two little black boys, I thank God for you every day, for being this incredible symbol my children are able to look up to and aspire to be.
Mr. President #1, at six years old, and Mr. President #2, at only three years old, will only remember the President of the United States to be a black man ― they will know nothing else other than what they learn in their history classes.
When my children were born, there was a black family living in the White House. This is almost unfathomable, but it brings me so much joy and peace. I just feel happiness in my soul.
I am so glad that when I look up to see the President speaking on the television, I see someone who looks like me.
So Mr. President, as you prepare to pass the torch, I very solemnly bid you farewell. I thank you for inspiring me, for inspiring my children, for inspiring people around the world, and for being a beacon of light so many of us were searching for amidst the darkness.
While the road is still long ahead of us, I am filled with gratefulness for your audacious leadership and courageous spirit that has taught us yes we can, and yes we did.
And just the other day, as I was feeling a bit melancholy about your departure, I pulled out that newspaper my husband rushed to buy the morning after the 2008 election. I showed it to Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2, and said to them, “Always remember that with courage, faith and determination, this can be you someday.”
If only those slaves who built the White House could see you now. If only those who fought the good fight could see how you shook up the world. If only my great-grandmother, who told me I would conquer the world one day, could have lived to see you become the first black President of the United States.
One victory down, and several more to go.