America’s first black president, Barack Obama, leaves office Friday after serving eight years in office. Obama came to Washington promising change and hope for the nation, and political affiliation aside, millions of Americans of all races took pride in his election.
With Obama’s presidency ending, The Frontier asked black Tulsans what they believe were his greatest accomplishments and failures, and whether he lived up to their expectations and hopes.
Here are their edited responses.
District 72 State Representative Monroe Nichols
I took my 8-year-old to school a few days ago. It happened to be a day I had to be up in Oklahoma City, so I was dressed in a tie and all that kind of stuff. I was walking down the hallway and there was a white kid who said, ‘Is that the president?’ And it struck me that for kids that are (my child’s) age, their vision of a president is Barack Obama. That’s all they know.
There are certain people that you always wish you could have heard live, or you could have lived in a time in which they were doing things. And I will say that I think Barack Obama is that person for a lot of African Americans and for a lot of Americans in general. A lot of people just feel fortunate that they were alive when he was president.
I think a failure of his administration has been that with all of his accomplishments, people in this country still feel we’re not going in the right direction when all the evidence points opposite.
Being an African American, one thing that I will say for what I hoped is that he would be someone that would carry himself with the kind of dignity that you had to carry when you are the first to do anything. Whether you are the first woman to do it, the first African American, the first whatever it’s going to be. He had to do things and he didn’t have that kind of margin of error that his predecessor had. He definitely didn’t have the margin of error that his successor has.
So I think from that standpoint, too, not only can we be prideful that we as a country elected an African American — because, you know, he is not the first black person ever to run for president — we picked the right person at the right time in this country, and he just happened to be black.
He and his family taught us, I believe, what it’s about to be an American and how that office should behave.
My grandfather in Texas, he used to tell me these stories about when he was an athlete back in high school. They had to decide where they were going to eat after games because he couldn’t go into every restaurant, not even to use the bathrooms in some cases.
One generation later we have this African American president, who not just was president, but came into office at a difficult time in our country’s history. To see the rapid progress we’ve made is pretty amazing.
As a black conservative, I cannot find any great accomplishments attributable to President Obama. When he came into office there was great hope, and he had the goodwill and opportunity to truly unify the nation, racially and politically.
Politically, he could easily have shut the mouths of the more radical right voices by merely listening more to what many were saying. Instead, he boldly proclaimed that he had a pen and cell phone, by which he implied he did not need them.
Racially, instead of making it clear that the opposition to his policies were a difference in a vision for America, he fueled the notion that opposition was based upon his race. Once that snowball got rolling everything after was filtered through this prism and the racial divide grew instead of diminishing.
While doubling the national debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion — twice that of George W. Bush — and a true labor unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, I believe the greatest failure of the Obama administration is the failure to lift the hopes of the nation. He ran on a platform of “hope and change,” but not much has changed, and we hear in all media that people have lost hope.
One of the greatest tests of a true leader is the ability to get people to rise above their circumstances and obstacles and succeed. President Obama failed to do this. He may give grand speeches in which he applauds himself for his great accomplishments, but by any measure we are not better off than we were eight years ago.
Being honest, I would have to say that the Obama presidency did live up to my expectations, but not my hopes. I honestly hoped I would be proven wrong in what I expected, but sadly, I was not.
His glowing rhetoric could not change the fact that his and his party’s policies were doomed to fail. It is not his fault alone, as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are as much to blame as President Obama. But sadly, he will have to carry much, if not all, of the blame as the figurehead of the party and the nation for the past eight years.
Former Tulsa City Councilor Jack Henderson
Although there were many accomplishments, I believe his greatest accomplishment was the Affordable Care Act. Although he did not have the support he needed, he was still able to get it passed and save many lives.
He surpassed my expectations, being an African American and not being treated as he should be. There was so much hatred shown because of his race and people not showing him respect as a president — not because of who he was, but what color he was. Although he accomplished many things that were never talked about, I would like to have seen what all he could have done if he was treated fairly.
Director of Working in Neighborhoods, city of Tulsa
As a black American, the fact that President Obama was able to get elected and not be assassinated and go on to lead the most powerful nation on earth was his greatest accomplishment, period.
While I can also tout his accomplishment in passing health-care reform, which had evaded every president since Harry Truman, as another major achievement, there are others. They include the fact that he actually got the stimulus bill passed, which was a $787 billion reinvestment into the American economy. He killed Osama bin Laden, turned around the U.S. auto industry, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, avoided scandal, expanded health coverage for children and even signed the Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in settlement funds for black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties for years.
History will write a more telling story about the accomplishments of the 44th president of the United States. But, perhaps equally important as getting elected is the fact that Barack Obama, whether good or bad, helped raise the dialogue on race relations in America to new heights.
In terms of failures, well, of course, I wish that more could have been done to promote or right the wrong inflicted on black Americans who are heirs to the institution of slavery. No one knows the impact this peculiar institution has had on a race of people better than those most affected by it, i.e., black people.
Of course I don’t have all the answers as to how this would have been achieved — perhaps some process of restitution or criminalization of financial institutions who were caught implementing a policy of “redlining” areas that are predominately minority. Bottom line, I wish more could have been done to address the systemic, institutionalized effects of racism and discrimination in American. Nevertheless, I’m a realist. I know that one man, one person couldn’t change a country which for centuries justified the physical enslavement of another human being. A nation that rationalized that a human being was chattel or the legal property of another human being.
I’m a realist, but I believed Obama’s “Yes, We Can!” pledge that as a nation we could change the way we treat one another. And then there was Mitch McConnell, who, as an American icon and leader, held a meeting during the same time as President Obama walked down Pennsylvania Avenue on his Inauguration Day to make sure that American, not just Barack Obama, would fail.
As an African American, it just made me think about the real reason why someone would want to dome American to failure. I can say this because while I didn’t vote for the new president, I hope the new administration can move American forward. When we work together, we are a great nation.
Did President Obama exceed my expectations? Yes, first because he was re-elected and he wasn’t assassinated. Second, because he remained calm and maintained his dignity, notwithstanding the hatred and criticism hurdled his way.
The Reverend Anthony L. Scott
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church North Tulsa
In November 2008, I shared a message entitled The Significance of a Moment, which focused on the history-making election of Barack Hussein Obama as the first African-American president in the history of the United States of America. Now, as his two terms as president come to an end, I am standing once again in a reflective moment.
The national celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., coupled with the final week of the presidency of Barack H. Obama, has thrust me into a week of reflection.
Reflection for me has the elements of nostalgia, assessment and vision all intertwined. I still feel and sense the indescribable pride I felt as a black man when the election results were tallied and the national news sources announced he was victorious. Fresh in my memory, I see the first family of the United States walking onto a platform in Chicago to a sea of cheering and sobbing supporters. Equally as fresh because it was just last week, I am proud of the moment when that same family walked onto a similar stage as he gave his farewell address.
If I had to note his greatest achievement as president, I would single out his leadership qualities and endurance. The mere fact that he was able to move our nation forward out of one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history, implement policy, handle the unexpected demands of the office, and maintain such a high level of integrity and dignity is a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself. I say this in light of the overwhelming and unprecedented opposition he was up against from day one.
I would have liked to have seen more policy changes directed toward the increasing number of police shootings involving African-American men. While I am quite aware he was not just the president of one race of people but the entire nation, this particular issue has been a major problem affecting our entire country. In addition, I hoped during his administration that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would have been given permanent status so that all citizens of this nation would have voting privileges without an expiration date. Finally, I did envision meaningful strides in the area of urban public education and instead the situation has grown worse.
All in all, the eight-year administration of President Obama still fills me with the greatest sense of pride experienced during my lifetime. This sense of pride has increased as he handles the peaceful transition of power to the president-elect. His disposition, oration, and character exemplified during some very difficult times have me tremendously satisfied with the service rendered to our nation by our 44th president.
District 73 State Rep. Regina Goodwin
His election as the United States’ 44th and first black president was a historic achievement. His creative political campaigns maximized the masses and social media. President Obama, a man of steady intellect and temperament, maneuvered between grace and race and held the highest office in the land.
We remember President Obama inherited war, a nose-diving economy, job losses -750,000 a month – a housing crises, and $5 -a – gallon gas. With a calming strength, he restored job growth, brought some troops home, commanded the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, placed two women, the first Latina, on the Supreme Court, convened the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and blocked the Dakota Pipeline. Yes he did.
Pre-existing conditions are no longer restrictions for receiving health insurance coverage: 20 million more Americans now have health insurance coverage, yet affordable health care for many remains a catchphrase.
President Obama nominated Eric Holder as the United States attorney general. He was the first African American to serve in that position; Obama nominee Loretta Lynch was the first African American woman to hold the United States attorney general post. These capable legal minds were impactful.
The fact that President Obama, under rising racist hate groups and record death threats, LIVED THROUGH his presidency is an answered prayer.
Now the lingering question of President Obama LIVING UP to expectations floats in an obstructionist environment. Understanding the reality, President Obama, like other presidents, hit and missed marks, yet succeeded in endowing the presidency with decency and dignity.
The heartfelt love of President Obama, Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia sends the message family first for the First Family. President Obama embodied hope in the White House. With the coolest stride, President Obama walks away with soaring approval ratings and a confidence in the best of America.
Speaking of President Obama, writer Tim Dickinson said, ” He didn’t
simply lift up the country, he elevated the presidency.”
Thank you, Mr. President.