I still remember the excitement in Philadelphia when President Barack Obama visited the city during his 2008 presidential run. I joined the crowd of Philadelphians at 52nd and Locust streets in the hopes of seeing Obama’s face as he spoke from a podium ahead. Together we chanted, “Yes We Can!” and “Change!”
I was 13 years old then, and knew very little about politics and the election. Today, at 22 years old, I’m paying attention to the final days of Obama’s second term and the importance of his legacy as the first African-American president.
Obama’s position in office has been significant in empowering young Black Americans like myself to aspire to leadership roles and to picture themselves in positions of power.
Ashlei Gentry, a senior political science major and president of the Black Student Union, has plans to be a school teacher next year after she graduates. She believes that Obama’s presidency has given Black children a visible model of success.
“Teaching Black children … I can use him as an example that the sky is like the limit,” Gentry said. “Now we have a Black president, so now it’s not like a dream. It’s something that can be accomplished.”
The stream of white men who occupied the Oval Office prior to Obama’s election reflects the inequality of representation that Americans of various racial backgrounds have endured for centuries.
For African Americans, our country’s history of slavery in particular has felt like an accusation of Black inferiority, causing children to continually internalize this idea from their very first American history class.
“In a nation that was founded on the genocide of the native people and the enslavement of the African people, the election of Obama represented a progression, evolution of the democratic process,” said Molefi Kete Asante, chair of the Africology and African American studies department.
Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor, said Obama inspired many young, Black Americans to participate in the democratic process.
“We definitely know that Obama’s presidency motivated African Americans to vote at much higher rates than they have in the past, especially including young African Americans,” he said.
Arceneaux said Obama’s presidency may have also encouraged Black students to take on leadership roles.
Nicholas Davis, a senior criminal justice major and president of the Pre-Law Division of the Black Law Students Association, said Obama’s presidency and his career as a lawyer personally inspired him.
“When he first got into office, I was in eighth grade and … [my] first response was like, ‘I can do anything,’” Davis said. “The fact that he’s just a Black person in general in a place where there’s not a lot of Black people, it makes it look more attainable.”
While some critics may argue that Obama did not effectively advocate for African Americans during his tenure, it’s hard to deny the impact his very election has had on many African Americans and our narrative in our country’s history.
There is no going backwards from an Obama presidency, a presidency that has effectively told Black Americans to keep striving no matter what challenges we may face. And this is why Obama’s presidency will forever remain salient in the minds of little Black children whose ancestors were told otherwise.
Sira Sidibe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.