On January 20th 2009, when a 44-year-old man from Hawaii with roots from the slums of Kenya made a triumphant entry into the white house after breaking the highest glass ceiling of power, he didn’t just make history, he became history. A piece of literature that will forever be told. Obama received national notoriety in 2004 when he made a key note address at the July Democratic National Convention at Boston, paving way to his election into the United States Senate in November of that year.
Barack Obama was box office upon arrival. He exuded poise; a silver lining in a society with dark economic clouds and a fulfillment to the August 28th 1963 dreams of Martin Luther King. The President began his historic term with the nation in the middle of an economic and foreign policy turmoil. He confronted global crises, terrorism, mass shootings and the challenges of growing economic inequality. He fulfilled a promise made by generations of Democrats to secure universal health care, and he served justice to Osama Bin Laden.
However, as Obama leaves the oval office, there are regrets, missed opportunities and a few ‘what ifs’. In the last eight years, nothing has been more controversial than the gun control debate. It was fierce at times and emotional at other times, but it was a raging conversation at all times. Obama will always remember gun violence cases like Sandy Hook and wonder what might have been. On January 5th, 2016, Obama announced new executive actions extending background check requirements to more gun sellers but political pundits believe that this was never enough to stem the scourge. In many ways, Obama was frustrated by the NRA and its cohorts on this subject. Whether Barack Obama will do some pro bono work in his post-presidency days will entirely be his decision. However, the gut feel is that he will depart from public glare with Donald Trump at the helm. We can only hazard a guess at this time but only in the fullness of time will we truly know.
Many have questioned, and rightly so, if the life of the average African American is any better today than it was eight years ago. The facts suggest that black shootings and discriminations have become more pronounced over the past eight years. Racial tensions have become louder from Dallas to Louisiana, and Barack Obama have most times looked like a man caught in the middle. Yet, one truth that cannot be gainsaid is that Barack Obama changed how black folks thought of themselves and the wider nation they lived in. Obama’s attainment of the nation’s highest office illuminated the depth and breadth of black genius in American society, helping to inspire millions of young people to nurture bigger dreams.
And some words for Michelle Obama. The outgoing first lady is grace personified and has more than carried herself with dignity over the past eight years. In a society where there is a dearth in effective parenting, Michelle has done a great job in bringing up Sasha and Malia under enormous pressure. As the Guardian newspaper puts it ‘Her public resilience in leading a charge to promote healthy eating across the nation, including providing nutritious foods for economically and racially segregated youth living in poverty, was illuminating – as was her willingness to speak truth to power at the Democratic national convention, where she acknowledged living in a house built by slaves. Moments like these cemented her soaring stature nationally and solidified the special place she holds within the hearts of black people everywhere.’ She has also managed a home that have been largely free from scandals, in an age when the social media scrutiny on those in power has been rife. There is a feeling that the last might not have been seen of Michelle Obama, if not now then certainly in the future.
In summary, these are early days to pass a verdict on the presidency and the entire legacy spectrum of Barack Obama. The jury will be out on that one for a long while. Hindsight they say is a beautiful thing and it is only when posterity looks back through historic lens that a last word will be said on the presidency of Obama. Yet, one thing we can all agree on is that Barack Obama was the face of history and while he tried to play down the significance of his racial roots, he cannot entirely divorce this reality from the way his presidency panned out. When all is said and done, history will be merciful to Barack.