Nearly six hours before the commander-in-chief was slated to give his final speech, I lined up along with thousands of Americans, filling the cavernous McCormick Place eager, and sad, to witness this historic evening, to hear what was undoubtedly a speech for the ages.
“Tonight it’s my turn to say thanks,” said the 44th President, the first to look like me. “Whether we see eye-to-eye or rarely at all–everyday I’ve learned from you. You made me a better president. You’ve made me a better man.”
“This is history,” Diana Simon, 62, said. “This is something that we probably won’t ever see again. I know I probably won’t in my lifetime and I just had to be here to see my president leave office.”
Simon was one of the first attendees of #FarewellObama. And she, along with Darnice Cox, 60, both Chicago residents, didn’t express much hope for the future — one that will be governed by Republican president-elect, Donald Trump soon.
“For some reason, we as Black people are not accepted in certain positions (of power), Cox said. “Obama…they gave him a really hard time and I don’t think they would allow another Black man in as president. So I feel sad.”
The president on the other hand spoke of a hopeful future for America.
“Regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder,” the president said. “We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do. That they value hard work and family just like we do. That their children are just as curious, hopeful and worthy of love as our own.”
I’ve had the privilege of being in the presence of the president four times. Once, in 2003 when he spoke at my high school graduation. Another time while covering the 2012 presidential election in Chicago, this past September in Washington D.C., during the unveiling of the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture. And finally, tonight.
Each and every time, President Obama has delivered a rhetoric of hope, equality and love for all Americans.
“For White Americans [unity] means acknowledging the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the 60s. That when minority groups voice discontent they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protests they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised us.”