Barack Obama’s Lasting Legacy With Black Men

How A President Showed Us We Have More Than Sports And Entertainment

It would never happen. Our parents said it, their parents said it, and Lord knows the great-grandparents said it. We’d never have a black president because America, despite how far we’ve come, just hasn’t come far enough. And if for some reason we did get that far, there’s no way he’d serve four years and don’t even think about eight. He’ll either be assassinated before he takes office, while in the Oval, or he simply won’t be a two-term president. He’ll be a footnote in history; an answer on the tip of your tongue to bar night trivia. It’s funny thinking of all those words as President Barack Obama rides off into the sunset not only with a popularity rating above 50%, but as a truly transcendent figure in American politics. He set out to be the Democratic Party’s Ronald Reagan and for the most part, he achieved that and a whole lot more. Obama is a gifted cat but his biggest accomplishment isn’t transforming our energy policy, healthcare, rescuing the economy, or any of the litany of accomplishments the history books will write about. Obama’s greatest feat was showing an entire generation of black men that we had a lot more to offer the world than sports or entertainment.

For decades, we’ve been told that we would only get but so far. We could be a Congressman, Senator, Governor, and yeah, even a dog catcher, but we would never sit in the Oval Office. The entire system was against us and even a cat like me, one who grew up in a comfortable middle class situation, we still saw a ceiling over our heads too.

Obama changed that.

Of course it wasn’t easy; nothing worth having ever is, but being president is a tough job. You’ve got a million problems to deal with before you even sit at your desk to start the morning, not to mention the other two million that will come your way before lunch. I get it, I’ve seen The West Wing. A lot.

But that job is made tougher when dealing with rigid opposition whose sole purpose is to block you at every turn and make you a “one-term president.” To paraphrase DJ Khaled, they didn’t want Obama to succeed. Rather than fold, he put his head high, strapped on the rubber boots, and marched through the bullshit with dignity, pride, grace, sans scandal, and an optimism that is downright infectious. And we followed his lead. We graduated at levels not seen in many people’s lifetimes, the number of unemployed African-Americans has gone down under his watch, as has the number of us in poverty. That doesn’t mean there aren’t those of us who are still disenfranchised, beaten down, and tired. There are still neighborhoods in disarray and families torn a part due to violence or an unfair criminal justice system. But progress is never easy nor is it a straight line. It evolves and it’s painful but it takes just one person to start us on that path. For me and a lot of men who look like me, Obama was that person.

No longer did we have to look to Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, Deion, or Denzel as our chief inspirations. We weren’t reliant on hoping against hope and wishing on some far off star that just maybe on that special day, we can do something beyond what the country told us we’re capable of. We’re more than stereotypes, more than thugs, more than baby daddies, and more than people put on this earth to entertain the world. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being an actor or athlete, nor is there anything wrong with aspiring to be that, but the point is, we know that the sky truly is the limit and that’s because of our 44th President. As he said, change doesn’t come just through hope, but through work, perseverance, desire, and truly believing in our better angels.

Obviously right now, there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of hope to go around. In just nine days, the Obama era officially ends and something else entirely different begins. Much like Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, it’s possible Obama is wondering what exactly did he inspire and what change did he bring if this is the type of successor he will have. In a town full of cynics and a country divided, there’s still work to be done and it would take anyone more than eight years to do it. But us, we of the melanin persuasion, are the ones who have to take up the mantle now and show that we are his true successors. Whether it’s being better sons, better fathers, or just being plain better, it’s our time to shine. Don’t just be “fired up and ready to go” when you’re chasing down your latest IG conquest or devising the perfect plan to cop some sneakers or debating who’s the hottest rapper out. Be that way when holding politicians accountable, urging your neighbors to vote and educating them on why its important they be a part of the system rather than just succumbing to it. Show up when they say you won’t, dive in when they say it’s too deep, and persevere because what the hell else are you going to do?

Whatever his legacy is and however history judges him, there’s no denying his impact on truly inspiring Black America, not just those of us with an Y chromosome. We’re engaged and alert and a lot of it has to do with the fact the guy in the Oval looked like us, listened to the same music as us, but also wasn’t afraid to hold us accountable. For our parents, a black president was a fantasy but for an entire group of kids, a black president is the only reality they’ve ever known.

Barack Obama is an inspiration. His very being is change and “yes we can” should be a rallying cry for every young black man within the sound of his voice. 44 can’t come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5, thanks to that pesky Constitution, but that doesn’t mean he’ll fade to black. He’ll keep working to achieve the vision for the country he’s always had and from one optimist to another, I appreciate it. He said that if you don’t like the people in office, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and become a candidate. Because of him and what he’s helped the country accomplish these past eight years, there are a lot of brothers who will not only take him up on that challenge, but believe it’s entirely doable as well. That is true change.

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