Over the past eight years, our country has gone through a lot, from mass shootings and arguments over gun control to human rights crises such as the Flint water crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Maybe it’s just because of the consistent flow of media making us aware of everything wrong in the world, but times have been tough lately. But when it comes to the issues of racism and police brutality, there was no better president to be in office than Barack Obama.

Obama’s campaign from 2008 seems like a distant memory to some, but the slogan “Change we can believe in” and the chant “Yes We Can” still ring loudly in my memory and have remained applicable for both his terms. I remember watching his inauguration in my seventh-grade science class and feeling such an aura of positivity and hope.

It personally meant so much to me because someone like me (mixed, born to a Black father and a white mother) was the most important man in the country and perhaps the world. Who knows when or if that will happen again. He was a president whom I felt I could relate to, who made me laugh and smile and cheer him on.

He set a beautiful example of a loving, devoted husband, father and public servant, combating the many unfortunate stereotypes attributed to Black men. He didn’t come from a privileged background and faced discrimination throughout his life, whether he was going to a predominately white high school in Hawaii or becoming the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review. He rose to the top position in the country as a Black man, giving faith to many that they can achieve great things (though that isn’t possible for all, especially with vast disparities in the quality of living conditions and education we’re born into).

Obama was a symbol of hope for many Americans, especially Black citizens, and certainly for myself when racial tensions were high. No matter the result of the most recent election, a clear divide has emerged, polarizing us to two sides: whether you believe race relations and racism are still prevalent in the country or not.

From my perspective, racism can be covert but is still a large issue in our country. There has been a disproportionate number of Black people shot by police compared to whites, a clear mistreatment of Black people all over the news and a disregard of the fears and feelings of people who are afraid of what could potentially happen to them or their loved ones.

On the nights when I prayed that my father or sister would be safe and mourned for the men and women who have lost their lives because of profiling or oppression, Obama was a symbol of hope for me. I had a president that probably was mourning over the same issues. He shed a tear when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened and displayed empathy whenever a tragedy struck our country. And he didn’t just mourn — he used his words to bring us all together and attempted to use his position to pass laws, such as the curbing of gun usage.

In the beginning of July, after the wrongful death of Philando Castile, Obama’s words hit the nail on the head about why everyone should care that there are people dying in the streets at the hands of police: “When incidents like this occur, there is a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us.” This was a president who got it and gave extensive statements on the topic, not shying away from it or dismissing it like other politicians.

I smiled at pictures giving us glimpses of Obama’s life at the White House, such as when he hysterically laughed at a baby dressed as the pope. I felt empowered listening to his State of the Union addresses as he used his gift of public speaking to comfort the nation. I know that there’s nearly half the country that voted against him and perhaps many view him unfavorably, but I think there’s an argument to be made that he is one of the most personable presidents we’ve ever had. And that side of him is what we needed at times. We needed a president to make us laugh and tell us the reality of situations while guiding us through them with poise and empathy.

All in all, I’m overjoyed that my president looked like me. It’s not just that — he cared like me, too.

Sincerely: Thanks, Obama. 

Chris Crowder can be reached at ccrowd@umich.edu.

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