My proudest professional achievement, to date, was working for our President. Even for jobs that have nothing to do with politics, government, or even organizing, I still proudly list that first job with Obama for America 07-08, prominently on my resume.
I was a young college kid, forgoing a year of school for a fat-chance at getting a paid gig on the campaign I wholeheartedly believed was going to elect the first black president of the United States. I latched onto the campaign in October 2007 as an unpaid intern in the campaign’s Chicago headquarters. I’d worked as a bus boy (later promoted to waiter) the summer prior and saved my tips in anticipation of potentially getting offered an internship with the Obama campaign, operatives for which I’d met at Essence Music Festival in New Orleans that July. Knowing I’d have to survive without pay for awhile, but gambling that I’d earn a paid spot, I took my server money to Chicago and worked in the New Media department, copy editing online press releases, sifting through website visitors’ complaints, responding to online inquiries, and a litany of other mundane corporate office tasks that, had it not been in support of a mission I believed in with all my heart and soul, would not be unfamiliar to your average retail carpet sales associate.
I lived off those tips, but worked hard. I begged National Field Director Jon Carson on a regular basis for gig out in the field, where the action was. He told me to be patient, but I stayed persistent. Eventually, an opportunity to prove myself presented itself in one my family’s home states, Missouri. I was sent to St. Louis to help with advance and organizing ahead of an upcoming Obama rally. If it was successful, Carson would see about an organizer gig in Missouri. We didn’t really discuss if the rally flopped.
Nevertheless, it went well. I secured the job in St. Louis and worked my tail off as a young kid trying to get a skinny guy with a funny name elected president. It was adulthood a bit earlier than I was ready for, but on balance, the best and most consequential times of my life. Everyday, I felt like I was doing my little part to change the world. I was to be an uncredited contributor to the album of global history. I gave my blood, sweat, and tears to that campaign. It changed my life, focused me, gave me purpose. I knew that our country–and, in fact, fate itself–truly was changed by those who force it to be so. I felt empowered by our genuinely grassroots victory. I saw it up close and personal. I was a black kid who was black every day and dealt with all that that entails–and I got a black man elected president of the United States of America. You couldn’t tell me I couldn’t fly for at least 3 years after I left the campaign to complete my degree. Everything was possible to me.
Furthermore, and I know many of my friends and colleagues who either worked for or volunteered for Obama–either the Senate and presidential campaigns or the White House–as an African-American, who grew up hearing the stories about African royalty, western slavery, American slavery, and Jim Crow; as, at least on one side of my family, a 4th-generation free man; as the grandson of a civil rights leader… to have been part of the magical story of the African-American experience in this country, to have played a role in writing a new, improbable chapter in my ancestors’ story is something I’ll take with me to my grave.
It’s hard to articulate how important Barack Obama is, not only to black folks, but to marginalized and vulnerable communities both here in America and around the world. Whether you agree with his politics or not, he symbolizes that there’s more good in the world than there is bad. That as hard as it may be to see sometimes, it is possible to cut through stereotypes, adversity and prejudice when you mean well and you work hard. It’s hard to understand what seeing little black girls with kinky hair growing up in the White House meant for black women and girls all over the world who, in some cases, thought it was better to be white than to be beautiful in their own skin. He was and is more than politics. He reaffirmed something black kids like me had heard growing up, but had no proof of until he won: we can be anything we want to be. Why? Because we’ve now been everything you want to be.
Yes, we did. And yes, November happened. But as our president said tonight-and throughout his presidency–our democracy depends not on the elected leaders who represent us, but on we, the citizens ourselves. So will the next four years be tough? Sure. But its our job–our duty–to make it successful in the end.
And on that note, yes, we can.