“A great man is a torch in the darkness, a beacon in superstition’s night, an inspiration and a prophecy.” – Robert Green Ingersoll
Dear Mr. President,
A week and a half ago our country went to the polls to vote for the person who will be our next commander in chief. As the election reached its denouement, I’ve now come to the realization that you now have only 64 days left in office.
While I disagreed politically with some decisions you’ve made and while I wish there were situations that you’d handled differently, I cannot deny the effect that your presidency has had on not just me, but so many black people across the country and the world.
The night you won in 2008, I sat on my couch and had a catharsis of tears and joy. I called my then 63-year-old father and asked him if he ever thought he’d live to see a black man elected president.
The gravity of what I had just witnessed at 25 years of age was so huge, I couldn’t yet put it into words. Eight years later, the only thing I can think to say now is simply, “Thank you.”
Thank you for your grace, your poise and your quiet dignity in how you’ve absorbed the downright vile, disrespectful and racist assaults the past eight years that no other president in history has had to endure.
Thank you for the hope and optimism you’ve given our black children all over the world, who now believe that they are just as capable, just as bright and just as deserving of the best that life has to offer. The joy I saw in the eyes of Kid President as he sat at the desk in the Oval Office and looked up at you brought me to tears.
I can’t deny that I’m finally beginning to breathe a sigh of relief that you made it to the end of your presidenc, not just politically, but also physically. The explosion of anger and open racism that we’ve seen was nothing less than terrifying, and we all knew what that might bring. Anthony Anderson expounded on these feelings in a recent episode of “Blackish” that perfectly summed up the fears of so many of us,
“Remember that amazing feeling we had during the inauguration? We were so proud and we saw him get out of that limo and walk alongside it and wave to that crowd. Tell me you weren’t terrified when you saw that. Tell me you weren’t worried that someone was gonna snatch that hope away from us like they always do.”
As I reflect on the moments of your presidency that brought so much joy and celebration, I can’t help but retain a bitter truth: I most likely won’t live to see another person who looks like me in the office of president.
The term “post-racial” has permeated our media and culture the past eight years with this false idea that your election brought the end of racism while those of us who know better have watched the literal rebirth of Jim Crow right before our eyes.
We’ve watched you endure while people like Rupert Murdoch claim that you weren’t “really black” because you had a white mother, and also being black-checked by your own melanated brethren like Morgan Freeman and Stanley Crouch.
You kept your composure as only you could, while the vile birthers and Alt-Right xenophobes spent years trying to delegitimize you and your presidency.
One of the most shameful moments for our country was when you became the first president in 235 years to succumb to the bigoted demands of “Show us your papers,” from Donald Trump and released your birth certificate for public inspection. It was a moment that never should have even been entertained and you did it with dignity and aplomb.
I thank you for the lesson you gave us all in humility, strength, and grace under pressure. I thank you for the moments of straight up “Chicago Blackness” you gave us such as “Folks wanna pop off,” crooning “Let’s Stay Together,” your rendition of “Amazing Grace” at Senator Clementa Pinckney’s home-going service and when you showed America why the black barbershop is a cultural institution.
Those moments made many of us proud to see our blackness, our culture and our institutions so positively affirmed proudly on national television by none other than our very own head of state.
While you surely have made mistakes and have moments you wish you had done differently, I hope you leave your office proud of what you and your presidency have symbolized to me, my family and black people across the world.
I cry tears of joy and sadness as I write this. The same tears of my ancestors who survived the hulls of slave ships, the same tears of my great grandparents who hid in fear from the rise of the KKK. The tears of my grandmother who served her country in World War II while still being refused her constitutional right to vote. The tears of my father who fought bravely in Vietnam and then came home to countrymen who burned crosses on his lawn. The same tears of my mother who endured violence for trying to sit at a restaurant counter.
I’m grateful that after all they endured, my parents lived to see you take the oath of office so they would know that their struggle was not in vain.
We all are brought into this world with a purpose, some more difficult than others. You not only served your purpose, but you did it with your head held high in defiance of those who dedicated their lives to tearing you down, and for that, you should be proud.
I can think of no other way to end this letter than with a quote from French poet Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry: “A great man is one who leaves others at a loss after he is gone.”
Thank you, Mr. President.