Her energy spoke before we even said hello. Maureen Nzeribe, a Chicago woman in her early 50s and an employee at the McCormick Place was dancing, smiling and congratulating people as they entered the venue to hear President Barack Obama’s farewell address on Tuesday evening in Chicago.
On my way to grab a bite to eat ahead of the long evening, I stopped in my tracks and turned her way. I had to talk to her – her spirit was too illuminating to allow the opportunity to past.
The breast cancer survivor met me with a hug.
“This is a part of history. This morning I went through my radiation and I’m here,” Nzeribe said holding back tears.”Obama gives me hope. I’m just so inspired. I’ve watched his kids grow, Michelle…the two of them. I love how he talks. He’s so cool and he’s got swag.”
But it was more than just President Obama’s demeanor that will forever hold a special place in Nzeribe’s heart.
“He wasn’t a punk and stood firm on what he believed in all the way through,” she says, her initially giddy tone turning firm. “It was hard for him but he did it and that’s why I have hope. Don’t let anyone tell you what it is that you cannot do. Although I see him on television, I saw the battle that he had gone through and he’s helped me out with a lot of my fears. It’s going to carry on.”
These emotions, shared by many, flooded the McCormick Convention Center. Ahead of the 8 p.m. start time, ticket holders were running to claim their spot to witness a moment in history.
President Obama impounded hope and led with admirable fearlessness and fairness that gave example as to the possibilities of what could be if we engage, unify and put foot to the pavement to create change. That’s exactly what he did.
“We’ve been through a lot as a nation and everybody collectively feels a little beat down, but I think what he did and what the Obamas have done for so long is that he just firmly inspired us more and made us believe that we’re not done,” actor Jussie Smollett shared with EBONY as he muscled through the exiting crowd. “It doesn’t stop here with the Obamas and regardless of who would have gotten into office, we still would be missing the Obamas. So, we have to keep on fighting. The fight’s going to be a little bit more hard, difficult but when have we ever shied away from that? So, now is certainly not the time.”
Obama pulled off one heck of a job. His presidency opened the doors of the White House to the public. People have gotten to dance and share a laugh, their personal stories and their gifts with the First Family. For the first time, we had a Black family in the highest position of power relate to us, connect with us and demonstrate how much they genuinely cared while enduring every stick and stone non-supporters had to offer.
The First Family set a standard and maintained a regal presence that invited the world to think bigger, to act boldly and fight with a level head for democracy.
“The most important thing about democracy is citizenship,” Obama stated during his address. “We all have to start with the fellow premise that each person loves this country as much as we do and we have to value and love their children as much as our own.”
The Obamas showed us an exuberant example of the family structure and the heights in which a solid foundation can lead a nation and curate opportunities that inspire youth to get involved and go beyond their circumstance.
“Obama, for me, being a young Black man was really important to see him in office,” Jocqui Smollett, younger brother of Jussie and executive producer of Smollett Eats expressed to EBONY. “Seeing a first Black family rise to power and really handle so many things thrown at them, so elegantly and so gracefully, it’s just such an inspiring story. I think the biggest thing that people have to take from his speech tonight is if you want to change something, you have to organize it. Get out there, just like he did.”
Once home, I sat with the lights dim and only the subtle gushes of wind breaking what would be total silence. Replaying the night in my head in full color, it was at that moment, it really hit me. That bittersweet feeling of witnessing eight years of hope, inspiration, bravery and cultural reinvigoration deliver his final speech as the President of the United States.
The lanyard around my neck hung long after I left McCormick, with realization that it had been my gateway to exist in the same space and take in the same air as a Black president who wanted nothing more than to rebuild hope among the people of America. Our commander-in-chief led with the mindset, “Yes We Can” and wanted to encourage and inspire all, that together in a unified manner – regardless of race , age or sexual preference – that once we become engaged, things can begin to take a turn toward positive change.
As the scenes of the historic evening swarmed my head, I recalled the moment the president Thanked us for everything. Then with a sparkle in his eye, had only one request: “My last ask is the same as my first. I’m asking you to believe –not in my ability to create change, but in yours.”
#ObamaOut. Tears all over my keyboard.
LaToya “Toi” Cross is the Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture for EBONY’s Print and Digital brands including JETMag.com. You can catch this laughing creative sharing work, art and capturing life via her handle of @ToizStory on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.