I can’t remember exactly when I heard Barack Obama had become the 44th and the 1st Black President of the United States of America but I can recall a lot of the moments before and after.
My school, which was fully boarding was secluded and removed from most of the occurrences of the outside world. We barely knew what was going on outside our gates, let alone in the rest of the country! But Obama was different. We followed the primaries closely at school. Of course we were #TeamObama through and through but we also recognized the history that a Hillary Clinton candidacy would set. When he won, it seemed the whole of Africa had won; it felt like a validation of the black man.
I can remember writing an article about Obama’s win that was read out during our weekly Friday assembly. I can remember ending with the hope that Obama’s election would push us all to break the barriers that had been enforced on us whether knowingly or not. I even expressed my desire to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom one day. That was stupid. There was – and still is – no way I would be eligible for that role, but Obama had just become leader of the free world; anything seemed possible after that! I can remember his first visit to Africa. It didn’t matter that we were in faraway Nigeria; we followed every single moment of his visit, from Kenya to Ghana. We bought Obama exercise books, Obama singlets, Obama school bags and Obama wristwatches. Everything had the Presidential seal of approval.
When I look back, I think many people may have expected too much. I mean, look at me. I thought America electing a black President suddenly meant I could try to be Prime Minister of the UK! Others had their own moments. For example, Obama’s election was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of better race relations in the US. It hasn’t. In fact, the results of the 2016 US Presidential elections can be argued as a backlash against the progressive wave that Obama rode to the White House. But more than policy or programs or achievements, one of the overwhelming lessons Obama has quietly gone about teaching is the importance of decency and class. The Obamas have been subjected to some of the most vile and reprehensible verbal and online attacks, most of them blatantly racist. Through it all however, the Obamas have risen above these with commendable grace and dignity perhaps best illustrated with Michelle Obama’s maxim, “When they go low, we go high”.
I am not American. I am a third culture African kid who’s never left the continent. I try to just listen and understand when Americans praise or criticize President Obama on policy, actions or achievements. I don’t imagine any of those policies or actions have had any direct influence on me and they may never do. But I still want to thank President Obama for something bigger than policy. Thanks for always having faith; for always reminding us to hope. Hope is what made a skinny kid in Nigeria, begin his sojourn into writing. Hope is what made him dream of breaking boundaries hitherto considered impossible and hope is what makes him believe that even in times of increased uncertainty; the goodness of humanity will prevail.