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What Obama's Election Meant To My Family

I originally posted this story as a Facebook post back in October. Since Trump's election and Thanksgiving, it has taken on new meaning for me. I am sharing it on this blog now for posterity.

The day our 44th president was inaugurated is one of my most salient childhood memories. I remember being confused, nervous, but most of all curious. I was trying to understand what was making my normally reserved, soft-spoken, and Republican father act so...abnormally.

It was a cold day. I was 11, and my brother was 8. We were southern boys not yet used to the Bethesda winters.

I remember our small townhouse was unusually loud that day. My mother’s two sisters were in town for the inauguration and they, along with the cousins, made our house home-base. It was like Thanksgiving.

My mom’s sister was somehow able to get tickets to the inauguration and made it a women only event. Everyone was more than a little bit jealous but what I did not realize until later, was the extent to which not going frustrated my father.

My father is a proud but quiet man. He was the first in his family to graduate from college and has worked his way up ever since. To this day, he accredits his success to two things. Hard work, and the transformative, empowering value of education.

The morning of Obama's inauguration my dad woke me and my brother from our beds, dressed us in thick winter coats, and took us into the city.

We were so upset. Why was this man taking us out into sub-freezing temperatures? We didn't have tickets like my mother and her sisters; he knew we weren't getting in. We complained like most middle school kids would, but our complaints fell on deaf ears. My father was on a mission.

It is not often that I see my father want. Normally, he would quietly make his preferences known, or simply take action, often in the background, towards what he views to be best. But that day I saw something in him that I had never seen before. Desperation.

For hours we navigated the city arriving at barrier after barrier erected by the secret service to protect parade routes or entrances to the inauguration area itself. We walked in circles, and we walked quickly. My father tried every route he could to try and get within sight of the capital.

Each backtrack was met with fierce resistance by my brother and I as we fought tooth and nail against spending another second in the cold. “You know we can’t get in without tickets dad. Can we PLEASE go back to the house and just watch it on television” we’d complain. But my father’s response was always no. “This is important."

Seven years later, and I am just beginning to understand why my father was so desperate to get a glimpse of Obama that cold January day. When he was inaugurated, my father knew that nothing was out of reach for his boys. My father, a tax attorney who began his career studying critical race theory and tax law, believed for a moment that in this country, hard work, and passion, can take you anywhere.

Obama reinforced my father’s hope and the hope of thousands of black folks across the country.

Because of Obama, every single black kid, my brothers and cousins included, has a new role model. Not a football player or a rapper...but a president.

Maybe for his next trick he can turn my dad from a Republican to a Democrat. Andrew Brennen is a student voice advocate at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. You can learn more about his work here.

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