Former US President Barack Obama, who turned 61 on Thursday August 4, remains an essential political figure.
Not only did he go down in history as America’s first black president, inspiring a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition of supporters, but he also made famous the landmark legislation best known by the moniker with its namesake – Obamacare – providing affordable health care to millions of uninsured people. Americans.
But for those who worked closely with the 44th President of the United States, namely his black staff, Obama’s presidency meant much more than just having the chance to work inside the “House of the People.” . TheGrio was able to connect with several former Obama White House staffers, who reflected on Obama’s legacy and what it meant to them to serve as the nation’s first African-American Commander-in-Chief. .
Reflecting on Barack Obama’s political rise in his first presidential election, Deesha Dyer, who served as White House Social Secretary, told the Grio, “I think for the first time a lot of people who were put off by politics or who simply didn’t know about politics were engaged and excited about President Obama’s campaign and later, the presidency.
Heather Foster, who joined Obama’s presidential campaign in early 2007 as a volunteer in Chicago, recalled being “really impressed” by the then US senator. “He was on the board of a nonprofit that I first interned at when I was in college,” Foster told theGrio.
While Obama may not have been as well known across the country as he was in Illinois at the time, Foster noted that his “it’s not about me” message but about the collective was what resonated with the then-record 69.5 million voters. their ballots for him. “It was about doing something together,” Foster said.
The sentiment of “we’re in this together” was a common theme throughout Obama’s presidency and encouraged his White House team to work diligently and collaboratively to achieve their legislative and policy goals. Most White House staffers who spoke to the Grio said signing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was by far the most significant accomplishment of the Obama administration. .
Foster said she’s proud of the Obama White House’s work on expanding health care, which ends up “changing[d] people’s attitude towards health care.
“It doesn’t matter where you live — north, south, east, west — it’s now accessible health care with accessible options,” said Foster, who noted that today more and more Americans are experiencing screenings and prevent diseases by being able to seek regular treatment. .
“The Affordable Care Act will go down in history as one of the most significant shifts toward fairness the country has made,” said Jesse Moore, who worked as a White House speechwriter for Obama and Associate Director at the Office of Public Engagement. “It’s still tainted by politics and misinformation, but it’s undeniable that it has broken a decades-long stalemate of inaction on an issue that will affect every family sooner or later,” he told the Grio.
Along with the legislative accomplishments, the former black staffers also reminisced about their fondest memories of working in the Obama White House. For Moore, what made the Obama years so special was the president’s ability to “close any perceived gap between the commander-in-chief and ‘the culture’.”
“We were fortunate to work for a president who represented both with authenticity and pride,” he said.
The Obama White House’s engagement with the hip-hop community has lent itself to facilitating “a real discussion about the power of music in the lives of young people, the future of criminal justice reform and the relationship between fame and leadership,” Moore said.
He remembers sitting in the hallway of the Oval Office with Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, whom he invited to the White House to meet President Obama.
“Trying to soothe the nerves he was feeling, I asked him ‘why he had accepted my invitation,'” Moore recalled. “He took a moment and replied, ‘It’s really for the Compton kids. The president feels like the moon to them. Like, you know you’ll never touch it, so it doesn’t seem real. But those kids know me. So when they see me shaking his hand, I think they will see that it is real, and so will they.
There is no doubt that for millions of Americans, President Obama was larger than life. Foster recalled the frequent fanfare whenever Air Force One touched down in a city. “[We would see] signs at the airport [and] along the streets welcoming President Obama. At every event, you would see long lines of people ready to stand and listen,” she told the Grio.
But celebrity stature aside, many former staffers described President Obama as genuine and a family man.
Joshua DuBois, who served as executive director of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said one of his fondest memories was teaching Sunday school lessons to the first girls, Malia and Sasha Obama. Family love was something that extended beyond the first family. DuBois recalled proposing to his now-wife on the grounds of the White House and President Obama went out of his way to call her afterwards to express a personal message of congratulations. “About time,” joked Obama.
There was also a lot of family fun and black cultural moments during the Obama years, recalled Charmion N. Kinder, who worked as an associate in first lady Michelle Obama’s press office and later as a media manager. Public Affairs at the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Commerce.
“I’ll never forget the day I found out that Mrs. Obama didn’t need a moment of practice to remember how to play Double Dutch for a World Game Day PSA shoot on the South Lawn” , Kinder told the Grio. “The President came out of the Oval Office and asked us what was going on. And the film crew asked if knowing how to play Double Dutch was necessary to work in the White House.
Kinder said that moment brought “an overwhelming sense of being a black woman in the world that belonged.” She added, “It’s a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
This sense of belonging and aspiration generated by the Obama presidency was a common theme shared by former staff members. All expressed their deep gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve their country and the country’s first black president, who they believe was and continues to be an inspirational figure.
“He challenged us to break down the boundaries, to challenge the barriers that kept humanity from seizing the opportunity to live promising and innovative lives, and he challenged us to see ourselves centered in the power of our future,” Kinder said. “His vision and commitment to creating a more perfect union left an indelible mark on the lives of our families – especially the children of our nation – and he did so with humor, unflappable grace and respect for all humanity in as a way of life. We are all best for his leadership as an example of how to serve.
Regarding Obama’s legacy, Foster said she believes the former president will always be remembered for “inspiring people to be leaders,” as he did for many former of the Obama White House.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, whatever your background. If you care about a problem, you can direct it. It can be in your hometown. It can be as a leader of an organization, a leader of a business, a leader of a business,” Foster added.
DuBois, Obama’s former director of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, said he believes his legacy will be remembered as “one of America’s greatest presidents, who improved the lives of millions and expanded the sense of possibility for millions more”. He added: “He was a healer in difficult times – like after Charleston – and a hopeful voice that charted our future.”
Kinder noted that former President Obama continues to empower and connect people to “change their world,” through his and Mrs. Obama’s Obama Foundation, and the foundation’s various programs, including Girls Opportunity. Alliance, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, and the Obama Foundation Fellowship. .
She also mentioned that the Obama Presidential Center, which is still under construction in Chicago, “represents an opportunity to build a world-class museum and public gathering space that celebrates our nation’s first black family, while uniting a new generation of leaders who can come together to advance progress in the world.
Dyer, Obama’s former social secretary, said President Obama will always have “a responsibility to get involved in social and political issues, which she noted, “is a responsibility he has. since community organizing in Chicago”.
Moore, Obama’s former White House speechwriter, said Obama “remains the confident, serious voice we need in times of darkness,” adding, “It’s still a voice I hope to hear when the country feels uncomfortable or threatened”.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is Politics editor and Washington correspondent at The Grio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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