By Terrence A. Merkerson
“Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, there, was Camelot.”
–Former First Lady Jackie Kennedy*
(*Quoted from the Broadway Musical, Camelot.)
Now that we are in our final days under the Obama Administration, we can now look upon and assess Obama’s presidency as a whole. As with most presidents, he was able to score notable victories and also endure some disheartening defeats, but there was something different about this Presidency… This Administration… this President… Something was just different. In my lifetime, I have seen four men rise to sit atop the summit of our democracy, but unlike the other three, President Obama will be remembered in a different way, some with significantly more affection than others. To those people, his presidency represented more than policy, State of the Union Addresses and executive orders, it was symbolic. It was one of the few, true and visual manifestations of progress and those are always the ones that seem to hold the most significance. Jackie Kennedy once referred to the Kennedy Administration as being “Camelot”, which is the castle and court of the mythical, King Arthur. After her husband’s assassination, she asserted that “there will never be another Camelot.” In many ways, she was right. The country was never quite the same entering into the mid-sixties. We began to see a shift in attitudes and more importantly, we began to see a shift in policy. Civility and equality finally had begun to become synonymous. The minds and hearts of many softened in the spirt of equality and equity. Conversely, we saw the mind and hearts of many harden in the same spirit. Sound familiar? Ironically, in the very same year that President John F. Kennedy assumed office and the mythos of Camelot was born, so was Barak Obama. 56 years later, it seems that we have found and lost Camelot, again.
In the fall of 2008, I was a junior at the University of Alabama. I can still feel and remember the paralysis of excitement (and shock) after Barack Obama received the Democratic nomination. Just the idea that a guy that looked like me, a little black boy from Birmingham, had a 50-50 shot at being the leader of the free world. It was as empowering as it was unlikely. Honestly, most of us were content just to see him recieve the nomination… until he received it. At that moment, it was like Black folks everywhere took a collective pause, like, wait a minute…this n**** could win! On November 4th, that’s exactly what happened. I remember riding around campus in my gold Chevy Malibu, with the bass turned all the way up, subwoofers knocking, blaring Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black”.
That. Night. Was. Epic.
We celebrated like we had won something, and in so many more ways than we knew that night, we had won something truly significant.
Over the years, we have taken the Obama family into our hearts. Before my grandmother passed, there were only three pictures that she had hung in the house that were not of family members. Those three pictures were of White Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha. That’s how you know it was real.
I was 20 years old when President Obama assumed office, so I was aware of how significant his victory was for Black folks, historically. But over these eight years, his presidency has meant so much more. Before the Obamas, all Black folks really had was the Huxtables. That’s right. A fiction family from a TV sitcom was the shining beacon and seemingly unattainable model of the Black family. Then we saw Barack & Michelle. We saw the way they loved each other. We saw the way he looks at her. We saw the way they stood with each other, as partners, and all of a sudden, it all became real… maybe for the first time. We saw them raise two little Black girls in a country that has historically driven our beautiful Black girls into the ground. We saw them grow with each other. In a way, they were our daughters and younger sisters. They became like an extension our families… like those cousins that went off to school and got all educated and found really good jobs, but still will turn up at the fish fry when Maze and Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go” comes on. You know, the “we can talk about them, but you can’t because “you ain’t family” kind of folks. We protected them. We loved them. We still do.
Despite the incredible responsibility of the Presidency, Obama had yet another cross to bear… One that no other president before him has ever had to carry. He had to carry an entire race of people. Not in the way that Harriet, Malcolm or Martin did, as his successes would be minimized and his failures would be complete and comprehensive indictments. The acknowledgement and validation of Black folks in America was contingent on his performance and Barry put-the-fuck-on for Black folks. This is why it pisses me off when I hear Black folks say, “He wasn’t Black enough” or “He could’ve/should’ve done more for Black people”. I know we say that he was “our” president, but sometimes we forgot that he was still everyone else’s president too. Just like you aren’t trying to lose your job “looking out” for your homeboy, he wasn’t either. Instead, he approached the issues that affect our communities the most with tact, wit and nuanced strategy. As unpalatable as it may sound, he could not lead many, in the interest of few, but what he did is take the interests of marginalized people and brought them to the forefront of American politics. He forced dialogue and acknowledgment. The resistance that he faced was unlike anything that any of his predecessors endured and despite the constant attempts to obstruct him, he still managed to be an effective leader. I can appreciate that, as we all should. All things considered, He was a pretty damn good President.
For most millennials, he was the first president we voted for. We have been notoriously vilified for romanticizing our experiences and perspectives, so I would suppose that the last eight years will be remembered no differently. But this time, its for good reason (let’s be real, its always for a good reason because we are dope and we believe in shit). In sports, we hear the term “Player’s Coach” used to describe a coach who focuses his or her attention on relationships and the well-being of his players. They use this approach to build a sense of family and comradery to get the team to accomplish their goals. In this sense, President Obama was a “People’s President.” Many of my elders have told me that never have they felt more connected to the White House. Back in the day, Teddy Roosevelt used to open up the White House to citizens. You could literally walk up to the gates, ask to speak with the President and get an appointment, if available. This Administration made us feel as though we had that kind of access to our nation’s highest office (even if it we really didn’t). By fostering and sustaining that connection, President Obama’s legacy will endure, affectionately.
As a member of a marginalized group, especially being a Black person, his presidency was the first time many of us felt like America was ours too (despite the constant, violent and hateful reminders that many people do not share that same sentiment). I like to believe that’s why we’ve began fighting for it again. We finally began to feel and take ownership of our country and now, when that investment is challenged, we refuse to stand idly by. We know that we are America because Obama played a significant role in making it feel like it was ours too. We got the mule, still waiting on them 40 acres, though…
Maybe not in the immediate future, but someday we will look back upon these past eight years with admiration, affection and appreciation. Many of us already do. He sang to us. He danced with us. He hooped with us. He cried for us. He cried with us. He cast a rainbow over the White House. He gave us healthcare. He told dad jokes. He gave us the best bromance ever with Uncle Joe. He loved his family. He dropped the mic. He told us we can and we did. He gave us hope that we can do it again.
And we will.
When Jackie Kennedy said that there will never be another Camelot, she was right. Camelot was lost. But that is the beauty of fantasy, it is located no where in particular, so it can be found again, anywhere. We found it, but as the fate of any fantasy, it yields to the reality of time. Now, is that time, again. It is very human-like to swoon in the awe of beginnings and endings. I guess it is just more romantic that way. But in that brief, shinning moment… on the pages between the front and back cover… there was Camelot, again.
Terrence A. Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication.
He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.