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As Barack Obama spends his last days in office, the nation reflects on how history will remember the 44th president. President Obama will be judged on whether he has fulfilled his promises of hope and change during a challenging time of upheaval. Below, VoiceWaves Youth Reporters give you a youthful take on President Obama’s greatest achievements and blunders.
Nia Thompson, 18 Long Beach Polytechnic High School
Whenever I think about President Obama leaving the oval office this Friday, I nearly start to sob, not just because of who is leaving, but because of who will be replacing him as well. President Obama wasn’t perfect, no president has been – or ever will be. Many of us will remember him as an outstanding leader who was for “the people,” because for the first time in U.S. history, a president was one of “the people.”
But others will remember him for bombing their homelands and deporting family members, and I’d be imprudent and ignorant to deny that. Nevertheless, I understand the tears in my eyes have much to do with identifying with our president.
When I look at Obama, I see my dad, my uncle, my brother. When I look at the first family, I see my mom, my best friends, myself. Obama accomplished what my people, as well as many others thought was next to impossible: he became the first black president of the United States of America. So if you ask me, that will always be his greatest accomplishment.
Sandy Garcia, 17 Renaissance High School for the Arts
President Obama’s legacy has truly changed America and impacted us. One of his greatest accomplishments as president was setting an example to people of color and youth. As the first black president, he was someone I know many children can look up to.
His family, too, has been a role model family without major scandals; Michelle Obama is seen as a very respectable lady and seeing the Obama daughters getting into Ivy League schools depicted an amazing family that was an inspiration to others and myself.
Elizabeth Campos, 22 Cal State Long Beach
I recognize that President Obama deported millions of people and understand why many call him the deporter-in-chief. Obama allowed the separation of families and immigrants held at detention centers who spent countless hours stalled, leaving split families waiting for an answer that might never come.
But I also saw enthusiasm, commitment, charisma and strength that I had never seen in any president.
DACA, Obamacare and as well as the FLOTUS’ priorities for health and nutrition are some of the reasons why it’s so hard to say goodbye to the Obama family.
Rudy Cardoso-Peraza, 22 Cal State Long Beach Graduate
President Barack Obama’s inability to improve race relations in the country can be deemed a failure. His focus on police instances of brutality on African-Americans throughout the country instead of on the actual structural and social problems in inner cities has caused distrust with authorities and increased tensions between minority and white folks.
69 percent of Americans see race relations in a negative light, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. However, Obama’s ambitious effort with the overhaul of the US healthcare system currently helps people cover health costs, covering 30 million more people. These past eight years have definitely brought much change to the country and the world, but the president of “hope” leaves much to be desired.
Thomas Lick, 28 Attended Long Beach City College
He’s only the president to successfully pass a comprehensive healthcare reform, he’s championed gay rights and brought the country out of a recession, but I somehow feel nonplussed.
I think it’s the fact that he’s bombed seven countries and gave trepid responses to pressing matters like police brutality or the Dakota Access pipeline that keeps me from lionizing his name. The country takes its cue from the president and at times it seemed as though he was waiting in the wings.
Other times he’s made history with little fanfare, which is also frustrating. From the long sought-after International Climate Agreement to his Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s commitment to protecting the environment is stunning yet painfully overlooked. Why is this important? Because letting positive change go overlooked creates an opportunity for a false narrative or worse — swift reversal.
Still, I find myself increasingly comparing my life now to what it could be under a reckless and destructive Trump presidency. And perhaps I’m realizing that I – like the media, politicians, and pundits, have taken President Obama for granted.
Nayobi-Maldonado Ochoa, 23 Chapman University Graduate
Obama’s greatest failure was his deportation of millions of immigrants. Obama made it a point that he would only deport criminals. However, most of those deported under him committed minor crimes or none at all, the New York Times reported. And for those that did, Obama’s plan assumed that all imprisoned immigrants were rightfully and fairly tried.
In contrast, Obama has also made many achievements, specifically towards minorities. A few of my favorites include: helping overturn Proposition 8 (California’s gay marriage ban) and appointing Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina, as a Supreme Court Justice.
Samir Saunders, 16 Long Beach Polytechnic High School
Until the late nineteenth century, black people weren’t even allowed to vote. Now, not only can we vote, we are being voted for office.
But as President Obama is a great man, many citizens don’t believe he has done all that he could. After all, the treatment of black people in this country hasn’t changed much. And though the recession is said to be over the economy still is in bad shape.
However, President Obama did expand healthcare coverage, initiate policies allowing LGBT folks to serve openly in the military, improve the food safety system, and end the heavy American military presence in Iraq. Most importantly, what Barack Obama did was stand as a symbol of black strength, intelligence, integrity, and perseverance.
Mariah Smith, 22 Long Beach City College
Obama’s greatest achievement during his two terms in office was his ability to appeal to diverse masses of Americans from different backgrounds by addressing issues that are typically taboo such as marriage equality, living wages, and the gender wage gap. Obama made healthcare readily available for most, and more jobs were made available under the Obama administration. As for critiques, I’ll never criticize a lame duck president such as Obama. That’s treason.
We all are free and should be treated equally, so we as one nation should accept it.
But one problem was that Obama thought he was doing good for the country when he created another expensive program with Obamacare. It’s a waste of money being spent because we could have stuck with what we already have and make the existing programs better. Also, the number of people on welfare is still too high.
Kathleen Fontilea, 23 Cal State Long Beach Graduate
I had barely started high school when Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election. I did not have much interest in politics then, but I understood the impact of his victory as the first black president.
The 2008 election showed me that as a Filipino-American, my voice was just as important as everyone else’s. I wholeheartedly believed that President Obama would bring about much-needed change. But today, my views on President Obama are not quite as rose-colored as they were then.
He staved off an economic depression, protected the LGBT rights and addressed the country’s violent gun culture. Obama’s greatest failure, however, was losing touch with the grassroots movement that helped him win the presidency. In result, 2.5 million people were deported under Obama’s presidency, more than any other U.S. president. Obama also expanded the NSA’s surveillance powers only days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Ben Novotny, 28 Cal State Long Beach Graduate
President Obama has numerous accomplishments under his belt, from healthcare reform to saving the U.S. economy to overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to Dodd Frank to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But I believe that his biggest achievement was exhibiting to youth of color that their dreams could come true. That alone will be his biggest legacy.
However, his biggest failure was not ending the war in Afghanistan. That war has lasted 15 years and has cost $4 trillion. We need to bring our troops home so we can spend that money on things like education and healthcare.
Long term, I believe Obama will be remembered as one of the best presidents this country has ever had, up there with Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.