By Barrington M. Salmon and Brittany Burton
With President Barack Obama on the verge of leaving office after two terms, discussions are swirling about his legacy and the place he’ll eventually take among this most exclusive fraternity.
Even as they celebrate Obama’s considerable successes, there is concern among advocates and supporters about the durability of his legacy in light of eight years of intense and sustained opposition from Republicans and the promise by his successor to erase any semblance of the Obama presidency.
“I don’t think President Obama has anything to worry about. The notion of erasing his legacy, are you crazy? Legacy is who he is and was,” says Tallahassee, Florida-based entrepreneur and psychologist Dr. Sharon-Ames Dennard. “The feebleminded can always be convinced of anything. There are many things that he and his wife has done right. There were no scandals. You know they were looking for the women, but every chance he got, he boosted up his wife.”
The Rev. Derrick Harkins said Obama’s political acumen, graciousness, and consistency endeared him to African-Americans, adding that he believes history will be kind to the 44th president, who leaves office on Jan. 20. “He is a president who sought to speak to the full expanse of America. Much of his legacy spoke to the needs of all Americans,” said Rev. Harkins, senior vice president for Innovation in Public Programs at Union Theological Seminary in New York. “I know the president, know him in the sense of a Black man who is the part of a beautiful family. They gave a sense of grace, a sense of who they are. President Obama was never uncomfortable being himself. He never lost his bearing.”
Rev. Harkins agreed with Ames-Dennard about the resilience and robust nature of Obama’s legacy and framed it in the context of almost a decade of Republican opposition. “I think the motivation on the part of many people was to negate the last eight years,” Harkins, a former Director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and Obama advisor. “But you can’t erase the inevitable. The US is part of the global community. You can’t build walls or separate yourself from those around you. They will try to dismantle many or all of the Executive Orders but the Kansas-Kenyan Harvard Law student will prevail. The attempt to rebuke the last eight years has failed. No one can undo what has happened.”
District of Columbia activist and businesswoman Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever said although her personal belief is that Obama should have adopted a more activist role, she’s immensely proud of his accomplishments. Jones-DeWeever said as the country begins to suffer economic whiplash and Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act, and the erosion of the civil, human and other rights, the appreciation for Obama will broaden exponentially.
“Generally speaking, I’ve been proud of the president’s character, level of dignity, work ethic and moral compass,” said Jones-DeWeever, president and CEO of local consulting firm Incite Unlimited. “His presidency has been beautiful to see. I’m particularly grateful that for my two boys, he has been the definition of what a president is. It has been beautiful. I’m also happy that he has made significant progress in releasing people trapped in the prison-industrial complex.”
According to Forbes Magazine, the US economy has grown for 78 consecutive months, with the economic recovery under President Obama better in almost every metric compared to the recovery under President Ronald Reagan. The US is enjoying the longest period of private sector job growth in history. Meanwhile, unemployment stands at 4.9 percent, the federal deficit has been reduced by two-thirds since 2009 and the stock market has soared to record levels. Then there’s universal health care in the form of the Affordable Care Act which has 20 million Americans enrolled.
“I believe that history will ultimately fortify his brilliance,” said Jones-DeWeever of Obama. “He brought security, standing and respect to the world stage and now we’re the laughing stock of the international community.”
Documentary filmmaker Mimi Machado-Luces declared herself an unabashed Obama supporter, saying African-Americans love him for a number of reasons, including the way he’s led the nation and all the positive examples he’s set.
“I will defend President Obama’s importance and impact with every ounce of integrity I have as a voting American citizen of African descent,” said the producer and promoter. “As a Venezuelan immigrant I have a few issues, however those issues are more based on our policies with my country as a nation and not in the manner in which President Obama led the nation. He was in my opinion the best president this nation has ever had because he truly is a president for all Americans including Native Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans, Afro-Latino Americans, LGBT Americans, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans, and all other categories we can possibly come up with.”
Machado-Luces said she fears for her future and those of her son and daughter. “We’re going to go back to some foolishness. I’m going to suffer without Obamacare if there’s no replacement,” she said.
The Obama legacy of pride in the nation’s first Black president will likely remain untarnished in the Black community.” In all my years of life I never thought I would ever see a Black president,” said Alice Walton, 69, a retiree. Says Letris Bryant, 53, of Springfield, Ill., “being Black in America is hard enough, and to feel like our new leader does not have my people’s best interest at heart…”
Likewise, some millennials worry that Trump will run America into the ground and [that he] simply does not have the best interests of the American people.
Aaliyah Caldwell a 22-year-old student at Howard University said “Donald Trump winning the presidency shows just how powerful people of wealth really are. He has no political experience, yet people saw him fit to run the United States.”
According to theAtlantic.com “fifty-five percent of young voters chose [Hillary] Clinton while 37 percent President elect Donald Trump.”
So what does this mean for Black Americans? Devin Jones a student at Howard University exclaimed that “Being Black in America is already hard enough. Now we have to continue to fight for the equality of justice and the right of fair treatment. We cannot let this man get the best of us.”Jones concluded, “Protesting isn’t enough. We have to educate our people on the truth about American culture and how White washed it is.”
For young voters, the Trump presidency is difficult to sink in, in part because Obama is the only president they have ever voted for. “I am not happy and it will take me some time to accept what America has thrown at me,” exclaimed Linda McNeil a resident of the District of Columbia.
Jessica Shaw looks positively at the situation, saying millennials can do something about the future. “Moving forward we must not fight with one another. There is too much work that needs to be done. We have to fight, petition, pray and stay in good spirits to be at peace with ourselves in preparation for the future.”