Thanks, Obama: a brief and hurried oral history

Summer 2004 – For some reason, the DNC let a little-known state senator keynote their convention. At this point, I don’t need to continue the story, but I will.

Fall 2004 – Our AP Government and Politics class debates whether soon-to-be US Senator Obama can actually become the nation’s first black president once John Kerry finishes his second term in office.

Fall 2004 – For the first time ever I hear a major elected official talk about – in detail – how he became a Christian.

Fall 2006 – I see Barack Obama in person for the first time at Temple University. That same day, Congressman Bob Brady insist on turning a political event into a fashion show, asking speakers to “strut” towards the podium. In the rope line after the event, I’m just a little too far away to shake the Senator’s hand, but I yell out multiple times that he should run for president.

Fall 2006 – The next day, Barack Obama admits on “Meet the Press” that he’s considering running for president. Coincidence? Probably. But just in case, you’re welcome.

Winter 2007 – Barack Obama launches his campaign.

2007 – 2008 – Mt. Airy & Germantown in Philadelphia transform into Obama-central. Seriously, Germantown & Mt. Pleasant were like the Times Square of Obama paraphernalia.

Fall 2008 – Barack Obama follows Ed Rendell’s advice and holds multiple rallies I one day in different Philadelphia neighborhoods. Philly turns out big. There were 20,000+ of us at Vernon Park in Germantown alone. The whole neighborhood was one big rally. Obama knew he had the election in the bag, so he spent five minutes of his speech talking about sweet potato pie. One of the things I remember most from that day is seeing how energized and engaged other young black men were. One brother claimed a newsstand so he could get a better view. Of course, I ran into church folk there, too. We’re everywhere.

Fall 2008 – I had never volunteered for a presidential campaign before, but I did a little for Obama. The campaign didn’t just get him elected, it got people in the community together. It pulled us out of our homes and into common spaces.

October 2008 – I grew up believing two things would likely never happen: the Phillies winning the World Series and the United States electing a black president. Then Brad Lidge threw the final out in Game 5 and the impossible became reality.

November 3rd 2008 – Senator Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden hold the final rally of the 2008 campaign in South Philadelphia. They are introduced by a special guest: Jimmy Rollins the shortstop for the new World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Dr. Biden and I gave each other “Willow Grove” shout outs on the rope line. One the subway ride home I met people who had come from across the country to campaign for Obama in Pennsylvania.

November 4, 2008 – I voted for president for the first time ever. I spent the rest of the day canvassing. In Northwest Philadelphia the turnout was crazy high. There was even a surplus of volunteers. We watched the results come in at North by Northwest. I didn’t cry until the cut to Chicago and the announcer (in a distinctively young, black male voice) said “the next first family of the United States.” We all freaked out. Then we sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Of course, I saw church folk there. We’re everywhere.

January 2009 – It’s cold. I wake up 1,000 hours before dawn and take the bus to Chelten Avenue. One the way, I pass the Johnson House, a stop on the Underground Railroad where freedom seeking black people stopped for rest and support. How crazy to pass a place like that on my way to get on a bus to go see the first black President take the oath of office.


The rest is a blur: Healthcare reform, equal pay, birth certificates, mom jeans, NCAA brackets, too many shootings, singing, dancing, getting bin Laden, opening museums, the 47%, reelection, Between two Ferns, Glozell, the Beer Summit, all of Uncle Joe, Will Smith randomly at the Nobel ceremony, telling J. R. Smith to put on a shirt, reminding us of amazing grace, baby whispering.

There was the time my cousin became a White House intern, the the Social Secretary and killed it.

There was the time one of my students joined an R&B group and President Obama took the time to listen and dance to their music (again at Temple, btw).

There’s so much that can be said about the Obama story. For now, let’s just say we’re ready for the next chapter.

Oh, and, thanks, Obama.