The most dignified of ex-presidents can be relied upon to shine a light of decency, calm and compassion through his social channels.
Right now, many of Obama’s energies are, naturally, being expended on support for Joe Biden, his former Vice President, in the run up to the seismic election in November. But aside from politics, we have always adored his humanity, whether displayed lightly in the form of sharing his summer playlist or more profoundly through his Higher Ground support for the disability civil rights movement; whether his touching and personal tribute to CT Vivian, one of Dr King’s closest advisors; or his sincere pride at the marriage equalities act that came into law during his tenure in the White House.
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Today, we’ve lost a founder of modern America, a pioneer who shrunk the gap between reality and our constitutional ideals of equality and freedom. C.T. Vivian was one of Dr. King’s closest advisors, a field general in his movement for civil rights and justice. “Martin taught us that it’s in the action that we find out who we really are,” Reverend Vivian once said. And he was always one of the first in the action – a Freedom Rider, a marcher in Selma, beaten, jailed, almost killed, absorbing blows in hopes that fewer of us would have to. He waged nonviolent campaigns for integration across the south, and campaigns for economic justice throughout the north, and never let up, knowing that even after the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act that he helped win, our long journey to equality was nowhere near finished. As Rosa Parks once said of Reverend Vivian, “Even after things had supposedly been taken care of and we had our rights, he was still out there.” I admired him from before I became a senator and got to know him as a source of wisdom, advice, and strength on my first presidential campaign. His friendship, encouraging words, and ever-present smile were a great source of inspiration and comfort, and personally, I will miss him greatly. I’m only here thanks to C.T. Vivian and all the heroes in that Civil Rights Generation. Because of them, the idea of a just, fair, inclusive, and generous America came closer into focus. The trail they blazed gave today’s generation of activists and marchers a roadmap to tag in and finish the journey. And I have to imagine that seeing the largest protest movement in history unfold over his final months gave the Reverend a final dose of hope before his long and well-deserved rest.
He is, in short, a force for good – both during his presidency and now. In his own words, as he addressed the graduating class of 2020, all coming of age in this most extraordinary of years: ‘First, do what you think is right, not just what’s convenient or what’s expected or what’s easy. While you have this time, think about the values that matter to you the most. Too many graduates who feel the pressure to immediately start running that race for success skip the step of asking themselves what’s really important.
‘Second, listen to each other, respect each other, and use all that critical thinking you’ve developed from your education to help promote the truth
‘Finally, even if it all seems broken, have faith in our democracy. Participate—and vote. Don’t fall for the easy cynicism that says nothing can change—or that there’s only one way to bring about change.
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This was back in 2011, when I was visiting the tiny town of Moneygall, the place where my great-great-great grandfather, a shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, lived his early life. I marveled as I walked around on the same old floorboards that he did, then I had the privilege to address the people of Ireland on College Green. For me, this photo pretty much sums up their joyful spirit; a warmth and generosity that stay with me to this day. Happy St. Patrick's Day—on this day, it’ll always be O’Bama.
‘America has always made progress because young people dared to hope. Your generation is making sure that’s true of our present—and our future, too. I know you can do it—I couldn’t be prouder of all of you.’
To Barack Obama – and indeed, Michelle who is as much an inspiration – for always going high, even – and perhaps especially – as others go low: you’re our hero.
By Nancy Alsop
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