If President Obama’s inaugural address is any indication of where he hopes to bring the country, the next four years could be filled with promise and unapologetically progressive politics. However, it is important to note that Monday’s inauguration marked the beginning of the end for the “Obama era.” And as this one man’s days in office are already more than halfway done, one part of his legacy is already quite clear: he galvanized a new generation of leaders and politically-engaged young people.
The Inauguration weekend, full of balls, parties, and pomp and circumstance had one recurring theme: we are in this together and collectively, we can make change happen. That message is one that the president used to attract young people to support his campaign in 2008, and it’s one that will continue on once he has left office and a new generation is ushered in.
At the Young Professionals United for Change gala, founder Brian Benjamin told EBONY, he launched his organization in 2008 specifically to support the president. His group which is made up of young Black professionals who were looking to get involved to help elect the first Black president. YP4C began throwing parties to fundraise for Obama, “Most party planners weren’t doing social cause events at the time. You don’t have to be in the basement of a community center to support Obama,” Benjamin said, “[Our pre-inaugural gala] is a time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished. We are still with him and will stay active.”
EMILY’s List, which recruits and funds campaigns for pro-choice Democratic women, also gathered to celebrate the astounding accomplishment of electing the only pro-choice Democratic woman governor in the country, 19 new women to the House, six Senate incumbents, and three new Senators – all the first women to represent their states in the Senate.
At the event, attorney and activist Sandra Fluke, told EBONY that Obama’s success with young people isn’t simply about him being charismatic “It’s more about how he talks to voters. How he talks to citizens. He talks to us in a way that conveys that we all have a responsibility to be a part of this process and it can make a difference when we’re part of it, whether it’s getting out and voting or the new initiative that he just launched [Organizing for Action] to keep us all involved and engaged even between elections and I think that really does inspire people of all ages, but especially young people to know that we can lead, we can have an impact and it does make a difference.”
That message was echoed at the 2nd annual Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball, with a glitzy red carpet and stars from film, television, and music. Event co-host Terrence J. said that, “Hip hop is the mobilization of young people and that was instrumental in getting Obama in office for both terms…when you talk about social justice efforts, I think Obama and the example he sets inspires all of us to stand up when we see something is not right, to help our fellow man….[it’s all about] people stepping up. It always comes from the top and I think the leadership of President Obama really sets that example.”
‘Stepping up’ has been integral to the president’s message all along, and his emphasis on “we the people” in his rousing second inaugural address solidified the focus on the collective, over the individual and how we all can work together to push towards the next horizon together instead of a lucky getting there and leaving the majority of Americans behind: “For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” The next generation of young leaders must heed this message and work to bring the nation to that next horizon, together.