Tomorrow, President Obama will leave office and once again take the title of citizen. The 44th president and his wife Michelle have had an impact here in the city of Long Beach.
Last September, the Michelle Obama Library opened on Atlantic Avenue, a 24,500 square foot library serving about 92,000 people. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate in Long Beach has dropped by over 12 percentage points from 2010 to 2015. President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative prompted Long Beach to create an action plan to effectively mentor Long Beach boys. Below, two Long Beach people and one Los Angeles leader who had the privilege of meeting President Obama share their experiences.
I met President Obama before he was elected to office back in 2008 during the Democratic Primary. In Fall 2007, I began volunteering for then Senator Obama in Nevada by knocking on doors and making phone calls.
During a February 2008 campaign event at the Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, I had the unique opportunity to meet him and ask a question. I shared my similar multi-racial background with him and asked how it informed his worldview. Senator Obama spoke about coming from multiple backgrounds allowed him to empathize with people of every walk of life in America. He connected his answer to the need to find common ground, like the need for humane comprehensive immigration reform that keep families together and created a pathway to citizenship.
While I have attended many events he’s spoken at over the past eight years and even visited the White House several times, I have will always remember the first time I shook his hand and spoke to the future president. The experience made me feel like I had a front row seat to watching American History unfold before my eyes.
I feel saddened by the departure of President Obama. He has accomplished so much the last eight years and I’m disappointed that the incoming administration wants to reverse our progress. However, I am hopeful that everyday Americans will rally together to stand up for what he has accomplished.
–Uduak Ntuk, Adjunct Professor, California State University, Long Beach
The first time I met him I was 23 or 24 and I was in Houston working for Obama’s first presidential campaign. They said, “Um, you know, the candidate will be here tomorrow and we need a couple volunteers.” They told us to go to a random bar the next morning. It was a televised veterans’ roundtable. There were veterans sitting in a circle with their family sitting behind them. Each of them had a microphone. My job was to hold the microphone while people spoke.
At the end, people were talking to then-Senator Obama and I wanted to meet the guy. Standing there was Congressman Chet Edwards who thanked me for doing a good job and asked me if I would like to meet the candidate. He brought me over and got the senator’s attention. The senator then turned to me to say I did a good job.
I met him again on three other occasions. I remember seeing him in 2004 with the Audacity of Hope speech when I was 20-years-old and a college student helping out with the John Kerry campaign. I thought Obama was going places. When he became the nominee I ran to become a delegate so I could be a part of history (click here to watch Richardson nominating Obama at the 2008 Democratic Convention). Now that his presidency is coming to an end, I ask what would the landscape of democratic politics had been had it not been for President Obama?
–Rex Richardson, Vice-Mayor of Long Beach, 9th District
Being born on the south side of Chicago, I’ve always connected with President Obama because of his community organizing background and the work that he did in the same community. Blessed to serve communities in Los Angeles while working in the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, I lead President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative for the City. I was invited to have dialogue with the president and his staff in December 2016 regarding MBK’s efforts that our office provides boys and men of color.
A goal of mine was to meet President Obama in the White House during his administration. So this opportunity presented itself at the perfect time. Everyone in the White House was invigorated and in good spirits the entire day leading up to the meeting. The feeling was surreal when the president entered the room—it was as if nothing else mattered at that moment but what he had to say. He was sincere with every word that he spoke and he reassured us that MBK will continue to thrive after he departs the White House and that our work did not go unnoticed.
I felt a strong sense of pride as a black man to witness and be a part of an important piece of history. Growing up I would hear rappers refer to having a black president as a myth. After my White House visit, I felt inspired and motivated to want to do more to empower our communities. Thank you President Obama.
–Nason Buchanan, Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Public Safety – Gang Reduction & Youth Development
This article was slightly edited for flow and style.