While watching the Democratic National Convention, I cried watching President Barack Obama’s amazing speech. Maybe it was because he was the antithesis of hatred that was spewed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Maybe it was because as man he has come to symbolize the audacity of hope. Maybe it’s because our leader for the last eight years was not describing Trump’s right-wing America that needs to be “made great again”, but my America. My America that is already great.
I’ve followed and idolized Obama since 2003, when I was 11. My reasoning back then was less because I ideologically matched him (coming from a Democratic family, that was a given). It was because the man running for senate in my home state of Illinois was of mixed race, like my best friend James. Obama is half black and half white, while James is half black, a fourth Hispanic and a fourth white. I also idolized him because he was a White Sox fan, because 11-year-old me just thought that was so cool.
And so I watched Obama march to an epic victory against a befuddled and scandal ridden Illinois GOP. The GOP nominee Jack Ryan dropped out of the race due to a scandal and his runner-up Jim Oberweis ran a xenophobic commercial in regards to Mexican immigrants. The Republicans thought about turning to Da Coach Mike Ditka, but ended up going with carpetbagger and out-of-state politician Alan Keyes — a man who had criticized former First Lady Hillary Clinton for running for the New York senate seat after not living there.
Hypocrisy, scandals and xenophobia. I guess things never change?
Obama won that election 70% to 27%. His star was rising. Many were talking about him as a possible future president. As a black politician, it would be a mountain to climb, but if anyone could, it was him.
In the end, it was him. For eight years the man that broke down those walls has led us to greatness again. He saved the auto-industry. Prevented a complete economic collapse. Gay marriage was legalized from sea to sea, from every amber wave of grain to every majestic, purple mountain by a Supreme Court he strongly influenced. He passed Obamacare — as an epileptic with a higher body mass index, I would have been dead in the water without Obamacare. He ended what felt like never ending tension between the United States and both Cuba and Iran. He got Bin Laden. He ended the War in Iraq. He made America great, again.
A man that many of us couldn’t see becoming president, because of the systemic challenges he would face due to the color of his skin, will go down as one of the greatest ever.
I couldn’t watch his speech and this video without thinking about what my America was. Growing up in Kankakee, IL, I was the token Jewish kid at a public high school that was mostly black and Hispanic. I wouldn’t trade Kankakee High School for the world. Yes, there was the mostly white, private Catholic school across town that we were always measured against — and sometimes we didn’t measure up.
But I’m getting my master’s degree in journalism from first and greatest journalism school — the Missouri School of Journalism. James is a young, brilliant man that came through that same school and is now earning six figures in the Bay Area. Charris, as much my brother as James, is a black man earning his master’s degree.
I mention these two because they are my brothers in all but blood. James and I have been best friends since we were five years old, Charris joined us in Jr. High. When our friend Anna became part of our tight-knit friend group, it’s almost like we became the perfect concoction for a modern day college recruitment pamphlet — a young man from a biracial marriage, a devoutly religious black man, a non-religious Jew and a lesbian Mexican. All of us hard workers. All of us friends “despite” our ethnic, religious and sexuality differences.
Because my America is united. My America is in their faces and the faces of all of my friends. Were there bumps in the road? Sure. I remember James, raised Catholic, wrestle with the question of whether or not I would go to Hell — he decided no, character defeats religious beliefs. When Anna came out to me, she expected me to be disapproving and mad — I told her I already knew, then asked where she wanted to go for dinner. She was still my Anna, my close friend that I was with everyday. Just because she loved a woman didn’t mean any of that changed.
Because in my America, love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.
When the Supreme Court decided it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to be married, I celebrated love with them. My friends and loved ones were closer to getting the same rights that I had.
But not yet.
Lawmakers in our country are still passing or trying to pass laws that discriminate against LGTBQ+ members of society. When I hear these people speak against them, I see them trying to deny my friends their rights as Americans.
When the Orlando shooting happened and 49 beautiful LGBTQ+ Americans were senselessly slaughtered for being born, I saw the faces of Anna, Duston, Mollie, Becca, Kedzie, Berkeley and others.
Why should my amazing friends be afraid to love in public?
When I see young black men killed by police officers simply because they are black, I see James, Charris, Keith, Etefia, Tim and more.
When a 17-year-old James was driving to school with our friend, a white female, in his car a police officer stopped him and asked her if she was held against her will. How close was James, my brother and my rock, to being another name on a long list of wrongful police murders?
When I hear Trump call Mexicans murderers and rapists and degrading them I see the rights of James, Cheyenne, Anna, Sofia, Melanie, Alex and countless other Hispanic friends who are just as American as I am.
Why are they suddenly deemed to be the “other”? Because they aren’t white? Because they’re parents and grandparents overcame the same struggles my great-grandparents faced coming from Italy?
My Italian grandfather and great uncle fought for the United States in World War 2. In Trump’s world, they likely would have been unfit to fight for their country in the face of darkness.
A mistake our country made with Japanese Americans, because unlike German and Italian Americans, they weren’t white. They were easy to classify as being part of the “other”.
I’m still not quite sure how racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism come to be in people. Not when we judge people based on their minds, hearts and spirit. I currently work in a newsroom that is refreshingly shaped like America — operated by women and men of all ethnicities, sexualities, religions and hailing from every part of America and from abroad.
A newsroom so diverse, yet so loving. We lean on one another while we cover crisis after crisis. We cry together. We laugh together. We drink together. We sing together. We are family.
I aspire to be like my managing editor Versha. An inspiring woman of Indian descent that will wear the nerdiest clothing possible to work while rocking out with her Captain America headphones and then turn around and interview the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power or Vice President Joe Biden. Versha helped me deal with depression earlier this summer, because we are part of the NowThis Family.
And that family is what I hold onto in the eye of the hurricane that is a Trump presidency. In the quiet before the storm. If the hateful, selfish demagogue that Donald Trump is elected, we will not be a house divided that falls.
We will be a house that burns to the ground from within. We cannot be complicit. We cannot let the storm of Trump’s lies and the fear he mongers destroy us. We must plant ourselves like trees alongside the river of truth and stand steadfast and proud.
America is a great, unfinished symphony. I keep referring to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s works and quotes because the success of Hamilton is a continuation of the great American symphony — one not sung only by white voices as Donald Trumpf’s America would have it, but one sung by a chorus as diverse as its people.
A symphony sung by the faces of my friends and family. By my coworkers.
When Hillary Clinton shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to be presidential nominee from a major party, that song will have now have stronger notes from women.
In third grade, my friend Ashley said she wanted to be president. She’s still the most brilliant person I’ve ever met and was our class valedictorian. The song of America is her song.
Thanks to Obama and Hillary, every child can now sit back and believe they can become president. They can all sing the same song. Their skin and sex no longer matter when it comes to becoming the President of the United States.
My America isn’t divided like Trump wants people to believe. My America has problems — systemic racism and sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and more — that I think we can fix.That we can get past together.
Because united, we are great. United we are strong. United we can win the battle against hatred.
My America is great. My America will be greater with Hillary Clinton leading the charge. My America is unified.
My America is love.