Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay writes fiction, essays, and criticism. She teaches creative writing and professional writing at Eastern Illinois University.

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REASON 06: Obama teaches us to believe hope can lead to real change.

When Obama began campaigning more than four years ago, I was staggered by the audacity of his message, “change we can believe in.” I was also staggered by the apparent futility of such a message. The threat of hope throughout his campaign almost angered me. It seemed too tender and fleeting, too romantic an idea for the gritty tenor of politics.

I did not believe I would see a black president in my lifetime. I did not dare hope for such a thing—a president with brown skin like mine. This country’s legacy of racism has done many terrible things, the most nefarious of which is extinguishing hope, the belief that yes we can.

Sometimes I don't want to hope because hope is dangerous. Hope can be crushed and then you’re left with nothing but the idea of what could have been and the bitter taste of what is.

But then Obama started winning primaries and there was a groundswell of support. I was a staunch Hilary Clinton supporter in 2008 (and still am) but when Obama stood on that stage in Denver, surrounded by tens of thousands of people who believed in him, people who gave this one man their hope, I started to hope too. I realized Obama’s platform wasn’t a promise. It was a challenge to rise above cynicism and disappointment, to put our faith in an ideal, to have faith that ideal could become much more.

The United States has always used hope as the horizon toward which people should rise. Hope is what made this country’s forefathers believe they could craft a document that would guide American rule for centuries. Hope is what allows us to always strive for that more perfect union.

I should not be surprised I learned about hope from my parents. They are Haitian and they came to this country hoping they would make a better life for themselves without losing sight of what they were leaving behind. Two years ago, there was a terrible earthquake from which the country is still struggling to recover. When I first learned of the earthquake, I thought, “Haiti has been forsaken.” I thought Haitian people would despair and with good reason. Instead, many said, “Bondye bon,” God is good. They said, we are here; we are alive. The ground shook and the world cracked open but their faith was unbreakable.

After Obama was elected, there was the inevitable disappointment. I was particularly aggrieved by his stance on (gay) marriage but as he has worked to undo the damage of his predecessors, as he has created an ambitious healthcare plan, as he has taken the promise of hope and converted it into measurable change, I have renewed my hope time and again.

There is a now iconic picture of Obama and a young boy in the Oval Office. The president of the United States is bowing, bent at the waist so the young boy can touch his hair, so the young boy can feel that he and the president have something in common. When I first saw the photograph I knew I had finally voted for someone who would affirm my faith, who would live up to the audacity of promising hope.

Sometimes, all hope requires is one moment and that moment, that photograph of the president and a young boy is what I most needed to believe my hope in Obama was well placed, to believe that while the president is just one man, the presidency is so much more when held in the hands and heart of the right man.

Hope is a challenge. I will rise to that challenge once more in November. I hope all of us do. I hope.

Roxane Gay
 Charleston, Illinois

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REASON 02:
President Obama faced down the GOP and the health industry to finally reform American healthcare. read essay →

REASON 17:
I’m voting for Obama because I love money, but I’m not money’s bitch. read essay →

REASON 50:
Globally, fewer people will suffer with Obama in office. read essay →