(WIB) – Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that Barack Obama had won the 2008 presidential election? Do you remember who you were with?
November 4, 2023, marks 15 years since the junior senator from Illinois made history by defeating John McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, and becoming the 44th president of the United States.
An elderly Black woman working as a poll worker handed me my ballot, a smile beaming from her face, and I started crying. I still have my stub from that ballot, proof that I was part of history. And I remember later on that night, after the Obama victory had been announced, my two sons jumped around, screaming and yelling out the window, “Barack Obama is the President!!!” And I cried some more.
We are now 15 years removed from that historic moment when the United States, a nation built on the backs of our enslaved ancestors, elected a Black man to the highest office in the land.
In Obama, so many Black Americans didn’t just see a politician. We saw, in him, fragments of our collective selves — the hopes of Harlem Renaissance poets, the determination of Civil Rights marchers, the ambition of Black students trapped in deliberately underfunded schools. And we saw the deferred dreams of our elders.
We’ve lived a lot of life since then — the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump presidency, the election of Joe Biden as president and Kamala Haris as his vice president. Sadly, we got used to taking to social media and hashtagging the names of Black folks killed by the police — Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and hundreds more. Every year, some folks mark how old Trayvon Martin would be if George Zimmerman hadn’t gunned him down in February 2012 while he walked home with a pack of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea. There’s the ever-present specter of war. Gas, food, and rent are higher than high… the whitelash keeps whitelashing, the world is heavy with the burden of pain and suffering, and sometimes it all makes it difficult to remember what hope and change felt like.
So we need reminders of what is possible, reminders of what happens when we show up and vote, reminders that despite the white supremacy-based efforts of individuals and institutions who don’t want change, in the end, progress can’t be stopped. Yes, the work to achieve true racial justice and equality is still there to be done, and as so many people have said, having Barack Obama as president didn’t end anti-Black racism. But him being president mattered. Having Michelle Obama as our first lady mattered. Having Sasha and Malia in the White House and watching them grow up like they were our play cousins mattered. Fifteen years later, let these photos serve as a reminder of what it felt like to witness how far Black America has come.