My Favorite President Obama Speeches: A Timeline Of Events
The night Donald Trump defeated the most qualified Presidential candidate in the history of this country I had to literally take a walk. Tears streamed down my face as the numbers rolled in on CNN. I was a few tequilas deep when I made my way through West Los Angeles and parts of Culver City and thought of all the horrid possibilities that might happen with a man like Trump in office (and while I wish I was wrong … the ball has already started rolling).
In the gut wrenching weeks since that devastating loss I’ve thought a lot about our President. I thought about the amount of disrespect he’s seen during his two terms. I thought about maybe the most useless collection of Republicans this country has ever seen and how they blocked over 500 bills during his Presidency.
Most of the things I’ve thought about haven’t been good. I’ve wept for Obama and the idea that he has to take the high road against this collection of *ssh*les. This man could stroll into the nearest goofball bar in Washington D.C. with Jesus Christ himself saying he’s done a pretty good job and you’d still have people obstructing, lying, and insulting. It’s exhausting to watch so I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how President Obama has done it.
Through all the disgusting things that has been pitched his way, the man continues to be one of the classiest individuals the United States has ever encountered in the public light. I mean, the man just doesn’t miss when it comes to delivering a message and bringing to life his hopes, dreams and visions for the county we all call home. Speeches have never been an issue for our President, he is likely the most gifted speaker of his era (and in the conversation for all time oratorical excellence with John F. Kennedy and maybe one or two others). Last night’s farewell speech showed Obama at his finest. Elegant. Forceful. Remindful. Passionate…and at times pleading.
The speech got me thinking about some of the highlights of Obama’s career that also coincided with some of the highlights of my personal life and so I came up with a few:
July 27th, 2004. Boston, Massachusetts
The first time I heard Barack Obama’s name was July 27th 2004. I was in the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts volunteering for the Democratic National Convention. I was barely 19 years old and working with my cousin Amanda and sister Jacqueline. We had to enter the grounds through a church that led out a backdoor passageway into some of the most stringent security I’d ever seen. It was something out of a movie and one of the most exciting moments of my life up until that point. We worked different sections ushering people to their seats (Jackie and Amanda got to deal with cool people like Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio in their section). While I didn’t have any celebrities in mine, I can still remember how excited I was just to see how involved so many folks were with politics. It was quite a jubilant scene to be at (Sidebar: One person I did come across was Bill O’Reilly who whilst speaking to two young beautiful blondes smacked into me on accident and said ‘excuse me’ before turning away. I looked up and realized who he was and simply responded with: ‘You’re excused’).
Anyways we didn’t have to volunteer for very long. After about 20 minutes they let us sit down and take in the amazement of the scene with everyone else. I don’t remember everything about that night but my mother still tells the story about how I came home after the DNC in 2004 and told her that Barack Obama may very well be the President Of The United States one day:
‘For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief — it is that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one. Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.’
November 4th 2008. Obama’s victory speech in Chicago, Illinois.
I was working in Dorchester, Massachusetts at the Neighborhood House Charter School. I can’t really begin to explain what it was like working there as it changed my life in ways I never thought imaginable. The school was in the inner city and I worked with predominantly children of color. I can still remember the night he won in 2008 and how happy I was; Not simply because I couldn’t stand the Republicans and was so thrilled to finally see Bush’s era over but because of the hope and faith President Obama gave the children I was working with everyday. I still see those posters that kids drew for their mock elections. The beaming smiles the next day at school. Parents literally hugging eachother and crying. I remember covering for a few different teachers that left to be at the inauguration … and how many children traveled to DC for it with their families. I sent out a staff email the day of Obama being sworn in and told everyone I couldn’t have picked a better place to experience such a monumental day in our nation’s history. I was on the 4th floor library, we had found some way to cram everyone inside, as we watched on a huge projector. It was such a beautiful moment to see all the kids watching in wonder as the national had finally elected their first black President.
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old. She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can. At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can. When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can. When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can. She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can. A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Yes we can.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.
Monday, January 21st 2013.
I was still working at The Neighborhood House Charter School during his second win. While much of the same feelings were felt in the second win as the first, it was more his brilliant speech in this one that really brought the house down. He echoed JFK’s calls to service along with other ghosts of President’s past. As a Bostonian and teacher I felt it really spoke to me for a variety of reasons. (The excerpt below was in my facebook ‘about me’ section for years).
“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task…This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”
April 17th, 2013. Interfaith Prayer in the South End following Boston Marathon Attack.
The Neighborhood House Charter School where I taught for eight years was also the school Martin Richard attended before he was killed in the Boston Marathon attack. The bias is clear, however, I thought Obama more than rose to such a tough occasion with this brilliant speech just days after we were attacked. It had an eerie familiarity entering the church on that particular day. Once again I found myself emptying my pockets for ‘security’s sake’, however, in direct contrast to the excitement of 2004, my stomach felt sick thinking about the reason we were all there. Obama invoked EB White’s description of Boston as a ‘Perfect … State Of Grace’ but also catered to the old school, no new friends, blue collar bravado of Boston with:
So whether folks come here to Boston for just a day, or they stay here for years, they leave with a piece of this town tucked firmly into their hearts. So Boston’s your home town, but we claim it a little bit too. I know this — I know this because there’s a piece of Boston in me. You welcomed me as a young law student across the river — welcomed Michelle too. You welcomed me — you welcomed me during a convention when I was still a state senator and very few people could pronounce my name right. Like you, Michelle and I have walked these streets. Like you, we know these neighborhoods. And like you, in this moment of grief, we join you in saying: Boston, you’re my home. For millions of us, what happened in Monday is personal. It’s personal.
Note: At 10:20 the camera shows my mother Mary and me sitting together weeping as Obama speaks about Martin Richard. I am shown again at 11:40 throwing up ‘3s’ for Boston.
By now most of you know that I am also a Hip-Hop artist and actor that lives in Los Angeles, however, shortly after Obama’s Boston speech I crafted ‘State Of Grace’ which was part love letter to the city in the wake of the bombings but also a dedication to my student Martin Richard:
Back to 2017.
The level of class of which President Obama has displayed throughout his entire career is in many ways historically unmatched. I still can’t believe he can muster up the humanity to ‘take the high road’ with the Republicans after all the bullshit they’ve put him through. His farewell speech last night is yet another beaming example of his level of class and amazing sense of pride in this country.
I honestly am looking forward to Obama being free of the White House in the years to come. Something tells me he is not done and he may yet achieve that vision of America he seems to cling to like a life source. I hope he does. I hope he continues his fight. He is one of the single most inspiring people of my lifetime and in the years to come I believe people will look back at his presidency in some of the best light there is.
Thank you Mr. President. Enjoy your last ten days. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for your service. Thank you for being you. I’m so glad I voted for you.
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