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‘Thanks, Obama’: Party celebrates eight years that meant so much

Spelman alums wanted to give the president a standing O

On his last full day in office, President Barack Obama penned a thank you note to the citizens of the country he helped lead for eight years. “You made me a better man,” the 44th commander-in-chief wrote.

Several hours later and roughly 2 1/2 miles from the White House, hundreds gathered to return the favor at an event at a Washington, D.C., theater titled “Thanks, Obama” — a spin-off of the popular meme that blamed the president for everything. Men and women of various races, ages and ethnicities celebrated the first family as extensions of their own.

“I’d say two days after [putting the event on Facebook] we had thousands of participants,” said Amanda Lockett, one of the project’s visionaries, alongside Bejidé Davis, her roommate when they both attended Spelman College. “Thanks, Obama” had been planned before November’s election. Following Donald Trump’s victory, the interest skyrocketed from 5,000 likes on Facebook to 60,000.

This was one of several panels and parties in D.C. this week commemorating the 44th president. “Thanks, Obama” was a five-hour party with several performers. Organizers repeatedly remarked on Thursday evening that it wasn’t anti-Trump. Rather, gratitude served as the evening’s unifying theme.

“I just feel like there’s a lot of negative energy floating around. Even just driving around through D.C. today, you see like, it just seemed like some people didn’t have good intent in their heart. I think they were just down with the inauguration or whatnot,” said Harlem, New York, resident Tyriel Wright, one of the evening’s organizers. “Just giving people a little of a distraction and something to look forward to, looking back at some of the positive moments. That’s what it’s all about.”

Distraction came in many forms. Snacks were cheap, the most expensive item on the menu being $4 hummus and pretzel chips. Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” was covered with “Obama Goodbye,” a switch that amused all in attendance. Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall,” Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and Prince’s “Kiss” were hits, too, as attendees laughed and danced.

Penny Marshall walked around in amazement, decked out from head to foot in Obama-related clothing. She was amazed that eight years had gone by so quickly. She was amazed at what Obama and his family had done for the historical direction of America, specifically for black people and people of color. And she was amazed she was around to experience it all.

Marshall, a Harvard Law School alum like Obama, had made the trip from her home state of Delaware. Earlier in the day, she stopped by the White House before making her way to “Thanks, Obama.” She anticipated that Friday would be “exceedingly hard” and said she’d cried every day since the election.

While smiles were in surplus, “Thanks, Obama” wasn’t without its fair share of emotion. During a musical intermission, Davis requested all children 12 or younger say their final goodbyes to the only president they could remember. Several children — black, white, Asian, boys and girls — thanked Obama one by one.

“He’s my first president,” a young girl said. “and I love him very much.”

“I like Barack Obama because I voted for him when I was 1 with my dad in New York,” another girl said.

Attendees were encouraged to draft their own thank you notes on pieces of cardboard taped to a concrete wall. All messages were heartfelt. A select few were life-saving.

“I am a HIV Positive man who finally got health insurance via Obamacare! A month later I had stage II rectal cancer. Having insurance saved my life. Thank you.”

“Thanks, Obama. I can’t really write why because I don’t want to cry right now. We love you!”

“You changed my life in so many ways, and I thank you. Mostly, you created an activist at 53 and eight years later, I’m going strong. I will never stop working on campaigns and being involved. Thank you!”

“Thank you for changing my life as a young black man!”

“I decided to become a public school teacher because of your State of the Union address. ‘We didn’t come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.’ Thank you for everything.”

Originally, Davis, Lockett and approximately 25 friends had planned to stand outside the White House and offer the first family one final standing ovation. Instead, “Thanks, Obama” climaxed at the theater at 7 p.m. with all in attendance clapping for the Obama family. Chants of “Michelle 2020” rang out, referencing the hope the first lady would return in four years to take the seat her husband is vacating. Cries of “thank you” rang from the audience.

It was a moment those who helped bring it to life will never forget. “I’ll just always remember that feeling of gratitude. It was a positive space,” said Lockett. “It didn’t seem like people were worried about tomorrow or the next couple of hours. Everybody was just really positive, just living in this moment and being grateful for what we had.”

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.