Dear Mr. President

By Primus J. Mootry
Updated: October 10, 2011

We’re ready to help you save the world.

INDIANA — Dear President Obama.

A year ago you became America’s 44th president, and the first African American ever to hold that office. I congratulate you! In this, I join the tens of millions of Americans who are now cheering you on, and the millions around the world for whom you have become a beacon of hope.

Although many have already declared you a hero, don’t let it go to your head.

I’m not concerned that you will, though. You have already shown that you have the greatest assets any man could possess — hospitality, humility, a sense of hope, common sense, and a sense of humor.

These are priceless gifts.

Still, I have wondered how you kept it together throughout your magnificent campaign. I know you were slighted many times, in thousands of little ways. There’s a psychologist in Chicago, Carl Bell, who talks about the persistence of such slights against African Americans, and African-American males in particular.

Bell calls them “micro-insults”: that guy who refused to shake your hand at one of your campaign stops; the presidential opponent who referred to you as “that one” without even realizing it was an insult. It’s that cab driver who refuses to pick up ANY black man in most American cities after dark.

Although you are not a child of the ’60s, I admire the fact that you know your history, and that you understand and acknowledge that you were brought to your lofty place on the broad shoulders of black giants who came before you.

They carried you, Mr. Obama, not for themselves or for you, but for all America.

I admire the fact that you know history. You understand the historical confusions that have thrown men into conflict for thousands of years.

You understand America’s past and present imperfections yet, like those giants I mentioned earlier, you love her madly.

You understand the suffering of impoverished men, women and children all over the planet. And, as you told that crowd of 200,000 in Germany, you are, indeed, a citizen of the world.

Students of history say that you come to the presidency facing a set of challenges unlike those of any of your predecessors. The most frequent comparisons are Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, arguably two of America’s brightest, most beloved past presidents.

Those comparisons put you in good company but, as I am sure you know, neither Roosevelt nor Lincoln lived in a time when the future of the planet was in peril, either through nuclear destruction, or man-made environmental disaster.

You will have to be incredibly strong to bear the weight of these and other new realities. With all deference to FDR and Lincoln, you, Mr. President, are in uncharted waters. Stay strong in your faith.

Keep a box of Kleenex and a Bible in your top drawer.

You will need them both.

To the extent that, in America, sports are iconic, in casual conversation with friends I have often compared you to the many black athletes who broke into rigidly segregated sports like baseball, football, tennis, and golf.

The important thing is that, in every case, these groundbreaking athletes have elevated their sport and that, in spite of early resistance to their presence, in time they became beloved figures. I hope and trust your far more important legacy will have similar impact on you, our nation, and the world.

Finally, let me congratulate you on your excellent choice of our new first lady. Your family is absolutely beautiful! I have especially enjoyed watching Michelle show her brightness, her toughness, and her inability to disguise her infatuation with you.

In closing, it is fitting that your inauguration took place on the day following the national holiday set aside to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is equally fitting that, in just a few days, Black History Month activities will be under way throughout the nation.

Indeed, you have made history. Even as you have kept the inaugural traditions of past presidents alive, I know your eye is on the prize. That prize is not in the past, but in a brighter future for us all.

With that, may God guide and protect you and your family as you move on to the next chapter in your improbable journey to a White House built on the backs of slaves, and to your place of leadership in a hopeful world.

Respectfully, Primus J. Mootry Anderson, Indiana

NOTE: This letter first appeared in the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Indiana.