On Jan. 20, 2009, President Barack Hussein Obama strolled into history. He was flanked by one of the most beautiful, intelligent and beloved first ladies this country has ever seen and trailed by two adorable girls who could have been anyone’s polished play cousins.
Despite pundit Chris Matthews’ excited assertion (intended compliment?) that the president’s persona made him forget he was “Black,” Obama’s café au lait skin, kinky (and still jet black at that point) hair and loose-limbed combination of class and swag flew in the face of that fable. President Obama was all the things his predecessors had been and more, but he was also something extremely important to the readers of this magazine: He was the “first” African-American commander-in-chief.
But some detractors, as we know, never got past the African part.
In fact, a few pathetic souls tried to disqualify him from the highest office of the land because of his Kenyan father, despite the fact he was born to a White Kansan in the decidedly U.S. state of Hawaii. No matter how many terrorists he killed, troops he saved or Americans he insured, those detractors will never be happy with Obama or his policies. They will always focus on what he didn’t do—what Congress wouldn’t let him do, in some cases.
And some, whom I personally will never forgive, had the temerity to take to Twitter with a snarky hashtag: #ThanksObama. Far from a gesture of gratitude, it was used to insult his steps toward universal health care, his progress on the divisive but much-needed conversation on race relations, his adjustments to bogus sentencing guidelines and his efforts to examine police brutality against Black men and women. They twisted “thanks” in a way that wrang the kindness from it.
Yet, as Maya Angelou might have poetically observed, still he rose. This Nobel Peace Prize winner tried to ensure the poorest among us wouldn’t go without health care. He set up initiatives, such as My Brother’s Keeper, to help some of the most vulnerable members of our American family. And though some hawks on the other side of the aisle are loathe to admit it, he vigorously protected American interests overseas. He not only found the elusive Osama bin Laden, but he also will be forever remembered as the president who executed the mastermind behind 9/11. He tried to cross the aisle, even when his “colleagues” turned their backs on him and made it their business to block him, even (and especially) at their own expense. He turned the other cheek most times; but when he didn’t, it was epic. He lived the philosophy that the first lady made immortal in her discussion of the nastiness of partisan politics: “When they go low, we go high.”
He elevated the Oval Office.
This man, this two-term president, is a success. If you compare his record to those of his predecessors, you will be in awe of the impact Obama had not as a “first” but as an arguable “best.” The Obama effect is so powerful that we could have dedicated an entire year’s worth of magazines to analyzing, assessing and applauding a legacy that should make this entire country extremely proud. That said, the nation’s best and brightest dropped everything to contribute to this singular commemorative issue. The legendary Nikki Giovanni authored a poem specifically for EBONY and captured the very essence of the man we’ve come to know and love like a member of our own families. Alongside Giovanni, superstar scribes such as NPR’s culturally astute Eric Deggans, MSNBC’s incomparable Joy-Ann Reid, the author Touré, comedian and Internet wunderkind Baratunde Thurston and others penned pieces guaranteed to make your heart pulse with pride. Politicians in the throes of a nail-biting election season practically pulled over their campaign buses to send words of farewell and appreciation to fill these pages. EBONY employees past and present toiled, including editorial lead Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, over this, excited to be invited to this going-away party.
It is no surprise that EBONY was granted the very first interview that President-elect Obama conducted after he was elected. It is also no surprise that we would want to bid him the fondest farewell and with the utmost sincerity say these words:
Thanks, President Obama.
Thank you for being great. Thank you for being kind. Thank you and your beautiful family for being examples to little Brown babies everywhere. Thank you for withstanding political barbs that would wither any other human being. And even though we still live in a time when we have to assert that Black Lives Matter, thank you for the hope you bring.
Thanks, Mr. President, for eight years, not just of #BlackExcellence, but excellence, period. You told us once, “Yes we can.” We tell you now: Yes you did.
Kyra Kyles is Editor-in-Chief of EBONY.