America After Obama: Chicago leaders look at the legacy of first African American President

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CHICAGO--  After eight years in the White House, WGN is asking local leaders about one of Chicago’s Very Own.

President Barack Obama was the country’s first African American president, and some of the leaders we talked to tell us they had mixed emotions about his time as president.

Where did he succeed?

Where did he miss the mark?

Ministers and millennials, activists and educators all weighed in.

For community activist, Jahmal Cole, the President inspired him.

“I think that he inspired me to want to do better for my community,” said Cole who also founded the non-profit, My Block, My Hood, My City. His organization helps expose Chicago teens to new opportunities and experiences.

For others we talked to, their evaluation is a bit more complicated.

Pride and frustration co-exist.

“It was never the ask for you to be the president of black America, but we would expect for you to have some conversation about black folk,” says University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Dr. David Stovall.

This was President Obama’s biggest fault according to Stovall, a professor of Educational Policy and African American Studies.

“He said it himself, he didn’t want to be the president of black people. He wanted to be the president of the United States and a lot of times I think he held back from actually engaging in those very difficult and layered conversations,” says Stovall.

Chicago activist, Xavier Ramey says Obama’s time in office, brought painful issues surrounding race, to the forefront.  Ramey is also the Operations Director of the Let Us Breathe Collective.

“He was the victim of three times as many death threats as his predecessors. The constant caricatures. The depiction him with watermelon and shucking and jiving Sarah Palin calling him. Rush Limbaugh calling him Barack the Magic Negro. It showed the level of vitriol that exists for his skin in this country,” says Ramey.

When asked how big of an issue race was to Obama’s presidency, Dr. Stovall said,  “Huge. It was spoken at some points, but what his presidency did do was it put the spotlight on our inability to have conversations about race.”

Rev. Otis Moss, III, Pastor Trinity United Church of Christ where President Obama was a member for nearly 20 years.

“I will not forget and I don’t know if I can forgive those who made the claim this president was not legitimate because he needed to show his birth certificate. That was the height of racism,” said Moss.

Those WGN talked to, say despite the obstacles the President faced, they’re still proud of his accomplishments, like passing the Affordable Care Act, clemency for hundreds of low level drug offenders, and marriage rights for members of the LGBTQ community.

“I’m very proud that he made it in there. For him I think it’s an unfortunate reality he was the first black president. Pioneers take the bullets. Settlers take the land. Pioneers take the bullets and he took a lot of bullets,” says Ramey.

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