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#HUOdesToObamas: Reflections From The Howard University Community

Posted 11:40 PM EST, Thurs., Jan. 19, 2017

On the last day of President Barack Obama’s term as the 44th president of the United States, The Hilltop collected letters, notes, and messages from the Howard University community written to both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to reflect on The Obama Years:

President Barack Obama spoke to over 2,300 graduates and over 25,000 in attendance during Howard University’s 148th Commencement May 7, 2016. This was Obama’s last commencement address towards a Historical Black College and University. (Photo Credit: Paul Holston/Editor-In-Chief/The Hilltop)

Dear President Obama,

These few words cannot fully describe how I feel about you completing your second and final term as president of the United States come tomorrow, January 20, 2017. For many students at Howard University, we have grown with you over the last eight years since your 2008 presidential campaign. For some of us, we have displayed great appreciation in a Black man with a Black family taking the highest, political position in America. We have also held our breaths throughout the entire eight years for your safety and protection until the day of your departure. It is with gratitude that you are finishing your chapter as the 44th President and moving on to the next chapter as a citizen.

You were my commander-in-chief during my time serving in the United States Army for five years. As a Howard journalist and intern for the Associated Press, I have reported on you on at least three occasions. Although we have never personally met, it is with appreciation of having the opportunity to serve under you as a member of the Armed Forces and to cover you as a journalist.

While I understand the political realm of the United States presidency, your two terms have reminded me that for African-Americans and marginalized groups across the country that the groundwork continues…and there is still much work to be done. While I did agreed on some of your decisions, I also disagreed with other decisions you made…and this is of course part of politics. I hope to one-day sit down with you as a fellow citizen to discuss about various topics that are near and dear to my heart, which include Historical Black Colleges and Universities, grassroots advocacy, and above all, continued work for our people in the African diaspora.

In your remarks during Howard University’s 148th Commencement Convocation, you expressed to my fellow Howardites to “Be confident in your heritage. Be confident in your Blackness.” It is with hope that these words continue to ring across The Mecca for many years to come.

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Thank you for your service. All Power To The People.

Very Respectfully,

Paul Holston
Editor-in-Chief, The Hilltop Newspaper

Dear President Barack Hussein Obama,

In second grade I wrote in our class book “When I grow up I want to be the first Black president of the United States”. In 2008, the world and I were blessed to see that you beat me to the punch. And eight years later resembled an eternity. When you first parachuted into the national spotlight I was a mere seventh grader with an oversized “Yes We Can” shirt who brazenly blasted the 2008 anthem, “My President is Black Remix.” Now, I have transitioned into writing research papers analyzing your use of presidential commutations and pardons.

I developed into the young man I am today and the man I am becoming during the Obama presidency, and in large part to the Obama presidency. A young man who no longer had to dream about being the first Black president, but being next or third or fourth. I could be anything, we could be anything. And that hope that filled me on election night in 2008 still sits at the core of my being.  President Obama, not just your policy but you have personally changed the trajectory of this country.

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As your presidency comes to a close, “political pundits” attempt to question and cap your legacy and frame how you would be remember. I can emphatically state your legacy is intact.  Your legacy will not be marred by Republican plans to dismantle Obamacare or the 45th president’s plans to roll back executive actions. The nexus of your legacy is not based on public policy. Your legacy is with us.

Your legacy lies with the children who for their entire lifetime only knew a Black president, with the elders who thought they would not live to see a Black president and everyone else you inspired in between.

Over eight years ago, your call to us was “Yes We Can!” Our response is “Yes We Will!”

Forever Beholden,

Sylvester Johnson III
Copy Chief, The Hilltop Newspaper

Dear President Barack Obama,

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8 years ago, standing in front of my TV, I watched as you took the oath of office. Goosebumps covered my skin as tears formed in my eyes. I didn’t understand what everything meant, I was only 11, but I knew that it was good. You were my president. My Black president.

The next morning I wore my brand new shirt to school. It read: “Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and President Barack Obama turned it into a reality,” with a picture of you standing right next to the civil rights legend. As I proudly walked toward my English class, my teacher, Mrs. Haynes, stood at the door and raised her right fist, and in that white space our Blackness temporarily ruled the world.

As I grew older, I watched as you gracefully avoided confrontation, often minimizing the systemic nature of white supremacy. Even so, I defended you with the utmost zeal because to defend you was to validate my Blackness and to reaffirm my faith in the sanctity of America.

As I became more aware of my miseducation, I turned my quest for truth toward you. I scorned as you effortlessly maintained a public connection with the Black masses while supporting and advocating for anti-Black policies. I began to resent you — you were no longer my Black savior, but rather, a puppet for the liberal establishment, hiding behind the blinding effects of symbolism.

Today, although I’m not looking forward to your successor, an orange fascist, I’m relieved by your departure. Your manipulative relationship with the Black masses has pacified the people, allowing this settler-colonial empire to function without substantial resistance; though, your presidency taught me that Black liberation will never come from assimilating into systems sustained by exploitation, to say the least.

All power to the people.

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Jason Ajiake
News Editor, The Hilltop Newspaper

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama,

Your impact on this country within these past 8 years is unmatched. You affected my life, my family and friend’s lives, and the lives of all young African-American women who are on the path to finding themselves and trying to see where they fit in this country. Back in 6th grade, I specifically chose Whitney M. Young Magnet High School to attend simply because you went there. My mother wore certain outfits because you had been seen rocking them recently on the news. My classmates, though they didn’t have much of an option, ate healthier due to your ban on junk food in high school vending machines. I can whole-heartedly say there will never be another beautiful, influential, graceful First Lady of the United States of America like you ever again.

Maya Reese
Contributing Writer, The Hilltop

Dear President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama,

Thank you. This letter is dedicated to you both. In hopes that you know how much you’re loved, and will be missed. To appease the naysayers, I’ll start by admitting that no president is perfect. Heck, no one is perfect. But you’re presidential imperfections brought you spitting distance to it. America needed something real and you were that. You never pretended to be more than. You weren’t the show off cousin, but the down-to-earth uncle. And you always brought along that equally vibrant aunt.

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Yes, I said equal. During my junior year at Howard, I took an elective course dedicated to the presidential First Ladies. (Very random, but folks had to graduate.) First Ladies normally discussed White House decorations, and stood proudly as a wife and/or mother. Holding lady-like events synonymous with the role of a woman, but never the span of aspirations. But Michelle Obama, she was never just a part of the package. She didn’t luck into marrying a U.S. President. He found luck with that Chicago girl destined for her own greatness. Quite honestly, she could stand in a room all by herself, but she wanted to stand next to you. And there’s nothing more beautiful than that.

Barack and Michelle Obama, I will miss you for so many reasons. You single-handedly revived this country in more ways than one. I’ll miss what you say about love and what you say about us. You were an unspoken representation of all things true. And though we won’t be able to reach you at the same address, you’ll never be far from our hearts. The legacy you’ve designed will inspire generations. Yes We Can. Because of you.

Kelly Sharp
Howard University Class of 2015 alumna (Bachelor of Arts)

(Photo Courtesy: Bernard “Poet” Murray II)

Dear President Barack Hussein Obama,

On Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I remember…

I remember taking the Green Line from 47th in Bronzeville to Roosevelt, changing to the Red Line, and getting off at Fullerton in Lincoln Park.

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I remember not feeling the “redlining” burden in the boxcar headed north from Roosevelt Street.

I remember positioning myself to view the entire car knowing I was standing taller than any other passenger that day, despite being 5’9″.

I remember eavesdropping on the discourses of CTA commuters wanting to chime in, but I knew my stoic Blackness was all the words I needed.

I remember walking west on Fullerton Ave, upsetting most with my pace, pontificating the historical significance of that day.

…I remember the 5th of November.

On Monday, January 16, 2017

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I am 11,630 km (7226 miles) away, but the gravity of this National Holiday and its observance has not escaped me. I sit here, in my classroom, in Dubai proud to represent my city and proud to be an American History teacher because YOU were my President. I even encapsulating our city with the global front pages of November 4, 2008.

Pundits have and will continue to quantify your legacy; however, policies and politics asides, YOU embodied everything it means to be a Black man, Black husband, and Black father. You personified courage in office. You made it acceptable to be a role model by assuming a ROLE knowing you’d be ridiculed, resented, and reviled and MODELED how to respond. You are our greatest collective achievement. The pinnacle of excellence. An aggregate of our strength to overcome. BUT, you alone should not have been responsible for fixing us. I never once was naive to believe inserting a temporary Black figure into a centuries old institution built on systematic oppression and white supremacy was going to solve anything. You – single handedly – could not rectify the Black community. Those who assumed you could/should are the same ones who have been given fish their entire lives. If anything, your legacy was to teach us to fish. We must be responsible for fixing us and must stop relying on a fragmented system. This is neither an affirmation nor acceptance of the conservative mantra “work hard; no handouts;” rather an acknowledgment that your position as president was to awaken the ancestral leaders who have laid dormant. Now, some of us are “woke af”; it’s time to arise the other sleeping kings and queens. Progress might be a slow moving train, but this little engine that could cannot give up since you have joined the long line of conductors.

You were, in the words of the late Stuart Scott, “as cool as the other side of the pillow” and for eight years I slept well every night knowing my president was Black. America won’t truly appreciate you until you’re gone.

“Thank you” just does not cut it.

So, from one Black man to another…

*brotha head nod*

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*dap and embrace*

*insert any gesture exclusive to Black culture*

…much love!!

Bernard “Poet” Murray II
Howard University Alum ’05
The Hilltop Sports Editor/Managing Editor ’02-’05

Attending Obama’s Howard University Commencement speech at my sister, Joy Gilmer’s, graduation in May 2016 (Photo Courtesy: Daniel Gilmer)

Dear Obamas,

You were the first public couple my wife and I aspired to emulate. We are forever grateful for the honorable example you have been to us, our sons and daughters, and all Americans. While this is the end of a chapter, we eagerly await the next. Ready to stand in support of what you all choose to do next!

Much Love,

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Daniel and Chanel Gilmer, HU c/o 2008

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama,

Representation matters and that is true of what your legacy as being the first African American first lady of the United States has shown the black community. The impact that seeing a black woman, from the south side of Chicago, who look like the many black and brown girls who are told they are not good enough, that their skin is too dark, or that their hair is too tough will further instill values of healthy self-esteem and healthy self-worth in little black girls around the world. Thank you for setting a standard and giving us black girls hope. It brings me great joy that in my life’s work, while mentoring and educating young black girls, I am able to tell them that they can do and be anything they want to be, which now includes sitting on the highest pedestal as a first lady all while keeping your standards high, setting forth to accomplish all that you dream, and keeping GOD first. You are the true definition of black girl magic.

With Love,

Cindy U. Dike, M.Ed., LPC
Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student
Howard University Graduate School

Dear Mr. President and Mrs. First Lady:

Thank you for so gracefully fulfilling your duties to our country over the past 8 years.  It has been absolutely stunning to observe the poise, dignity, and professionalism you projected to the world every day.   And I am certain that the precedent of your presidency has elevated the dreams and aspirations of millions.

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I feel blessed to have personally experienced some of the incremental steps on your historic path to the White House.  In 2008, it was an honor to host a good friend of mine from law school who was a regional campaign staffer.  I remember the electricity at your rally at the University of Cincinnati, energized by your message of Hope.  And the bitter cold of the day of your inauguration simply accented the significance of that moment.  These are memories that I will cherish.

During your tenure, my wife and I started a family – we now have two beautiful daughters. And I remember the day I asked my oldest if she knew the name of the President.  She replied, with a smile, “Barack Obama”.  It was clear that she not only recognized you, but she also admired you.  And in that moment, I appreciated that you and the First Lady had more than my admiration, you had my trust.  I’ve trusted you to demonstrate, to my daughters, self-respect, sometimes humor, and frequently love.  Thank you.

In closing, the future is always uncertain.  But while many of us have profound concerns due to signals of what’s to come, I will continue to carry your banner of Hope.  Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Obama.  We will miss you, and God Bless You.


Idris N. McKelvey
Howard University ‘02
Howard University School of Law ‘05

President Barack Obama,

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I am so grateful for all you have done in eight years. On November 4, 2008 I had tears as I watched the results come in and knew that yes we had done it. Your Presidency has made me proud in many ways. The no-drama Obama has lived up to what was needed under incredible circumstances. The obstruction that you encountered can’t be measured but yet you stood above it all and just kept moving forward, making one accomplishment after another. Thank you for your cool. Thank you for your vision. Thank you for big picture view. Thank you for the model you set for all Americans but most importantly, thank you for the reflection in the mirror you provided for every black male of every age.

First Lady Michelle Obama,

I admired you from the beginning. You set your priorities just perfectly. First, ensuring your daughters were settled well. Some worried that might marginalize what you could accomplish but I knew that your role as Mom-in-Chief would bear fruit for the nation. You recognized the incredible value of our military and let the nation know what we all could do to embrace them and their families. While partisan rancor tried to criticize your focus on child nutrition and Let’s Move efforts, not surprisingly the results have shown what your initiative could do. You were undaunted and took it on anyway. The baby shower for pregnant military moms stands out in my mind.

As a professional woman and mother, I looked at myself and my women friends and we each stood a little taller because of you. We took extra care in our wear, our style, our fitness, our jewelry. You have been the ultimate role model for all women and mothers and your opening of the people’s house to all the people is memorable for generations to come. I rushed to watch the performances at the White House and see the enjoyment that you and the President had at those performances and the diversity of the artists. To say thank you is hardly enough, but thank you.

Janine Rouson, Howard University alumna School of Business Class of 1981

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Obama:

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Thank you for your proud and honorable service to our country as our 44th President and First Lady. Your service to our country from what you have done legislatively to how you represented yourselves to our nation was second-to-none. You brought a class and integrity to politics that has been missing greatly in many instances.

Above all, you always brought a cool and calm from start to finish. You challenged us as a nation to be better both in our politics and in our lives in general.

No matter how tough things seemed to be, you took a stand when you needed to take a stand, but more importantly you just kept on shoveling to make our country better.

Along the way your family represented us at home and abroad very proudly and never disappointed yourselves nor our nation regardless of what many others have said.

I wish your family nothing but the best going forward and thank you again for showing our nation what it means to serve in our government.


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Jonathan Davis
Howard University Class of 2005



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