I lost count of how many times I teared up reading Jeanne Marie Laskas’ To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope, especially during such time when the entire world is on fire.
During his 8-year presidency, Barack Obama received ten thousand letters a day from ordinary American citizens. His Office of Presidential Correspondence would handpick ten letters for him to read and reply personally every night. When asked why he cared about those letters so much, he said it was how he started campaigning — going around and listening to what people have to say because that is “how relationships, trust, communities are formed, and that’s the glue around which democracies work.”
It was his raw kindness and empathy that struck me. He built an administration that cared about these letters because these are the stories of the American people, the collective stories of this nation, and they helped him stay grounded in Washington. A White House intern said, “if the mail mattered [to the President], the people reading it mattered.” Such work culture amazed me; “They remind you that government can work and that people committed to public service really do exist.”
President Obama “was the first sitting president to visit a federal prison…he [used] his power of commutation as a form of criminal-justice reform…in total, he would grant executive clemency to 1927 people convicted of federal crimes, more than the past thirteen presidents combined.” He truly cares about youth development and he has a big heart; He forgives. I think the world now desperately needs and craves a leader who embodies these qualities.
I started reading this book as an escape from my own life, but I was pleasantly overwhelmed as I finished it. I learned good lessons from him. I also understand this nation way better than before. I realized that many letter writers experience bigger problems than what I'm currently facing.
My manager texted me a GIF saying how Obama would wink at me with a big smile when he sees me in the crowd. I’d like to think that he’d say, “I’m rooting for you. Bear in mind what lies at the heart of this nation’s promise: All people are created equal, no matter the color of their skin or the country they are from.”
Thank you, President Obama.