"Attending a school of competitive artists puts quite a strain on unity. We’re always competing and comparing our talents, and sometimes we lose sight of what unity really means.
I realize that even in my small class of 59, I barely communicate with all my classmates. We seem to exist in the same space, frequent the same hallways and classrooms, but share no real connection.
But in the spirit of the recent presidential inauguration, we all came together. Literally. After a bit of technical difficulty, the entire school gathered in the theater to witness Barack Obama become our 44th president.
Students at the Alabama School of Fine Arts are diverse in many ways: political standpoints, ethnicity, religion and family backgrounds. But we all were Americans as we quietly watched in amazement as the declarations of American equality manifested themselves for the first time in many of lives.
I think this election was so monumental to my classmates because it represented their first votes. Their votes helped elect America’s first black president. Watching the interest that students took in government was an empowering experience.
When we all dispersed into our various classes, back into the seclusion of own lives, our unity lingered. Whether it was new friendships forged during those three hours or shared dreams of our future democracy, we all left the theater as one."
Eight years ago, I wrote the above article and published it in The Birmingham News. In eight years, a lot has changed, including my long-term memory, but when I close my eyes, I can see myself sitting in that auditorium, as if it happened yesterday. Our entire school gathered in the auditorium, and even then, I knew the importance of this inauguration. Still, I don’t think I realized the impact it would have on me and all of my classmates eight years later.
The reason people were devastated and in some of your opinions, “dramatic” about the most recent election is because of what the election of Barack Obama meant at the time. Eight years ago, we were in a recession. Even at 17 years old, I knew we were struggling. Gas prices had risen so much, people were walking to work in Birmingham, a city that advertises for car sales as much as Los Angeles.
Groceries stores that sold decently fresh produce were closing, creating food deserts in their wakes. And to be honest, the millennials who don’t care about anything were shaped by an environment whose government seemed not to care about them. We read Harry Potter books to escape from foreclosed houses, broken families and systematic racism that was sneaky enough to be undetected but deadly enough to still be felt.
When we watched a man who ran his campaign on hope; the audacity to change your circumstances; and standing with each other despite differences in opinion, we could kind of relate. We were reading fantasy novels about people who were divided based off their talents uniting to destroy evil. That’s a corny comparison, but were we not? We watched reality shows that found singing gems in corn patches; young hoodlums being saved by gracious families in the O.C.; and, raise your hand if you can’t help but think of Jimmy every time Drake gets in his feelings. Everything we consumed prepared us for a world where Barack Obama could succeed. Those of us that were already 18 lined up at the polls like Bath and Body works was having a sale. Those who weren’t watched in envy, but we were all rooting for our real-life Harry to take the office and make some difference.
Obama’s campaign was Yes We Can, and yes he did. Say what you want, but we’ve come a long way in the past eight years. Entertainers are going to the White House, incorporating causes in their work. The trend is to be “woke” and work in the community rather than just tweet about things that piss you off. The list of my friends that are getting engaged and married before me is finally inclusive to those that are LGBTQ!
To keep this short and sweet, when I re-read the article I wrote when President Obama was first elected, I smiled at the hope that seeped through each line. Little E.Wade didn’t know that she would witness not only one, but two terms of the greatest U.S. President she’d ever seen. A president that would go on talk shows to show his humanity. A president that was hilarious, and didn’t mind making jokes about himself. A president that would work for the black community, even though we openly doubted him as much as non-minorities, and one that would preside with grace and dignity even if the people he vowed to protect and serve didn’t reciprocate.
Thank you, President Obama. Thank you for all you have done, and for all you will continue to do. Thank you for providing an America I actually want to fight for. Thank you for allowing me to wrap my fingers around the American Dream for the first time in my life.
I want to repay you by doing more than reminiscing on your legacy, and upholding it no matter who your successor is. You have vowed to not give up when you step down, and I won’t either. I will have the audacity to hope, and the will to change so my children can know making a difference involves just as much emotion as it does action. There is still much work that needs to be done, so now is not the time to become complacent in the future that’s ahead of us.
I’m not saying farewell yet. I’m saying, good looking out. We got it from here.