Protecting the Presidential Legacy in Primary Classrooms


Protecting the Presidential Legacy in Primary Classrooms

I remember the first time I truly understood what, or better yet, who the president was. In 2000, I was a 3rd grader in Mr. Grantham’s class in Hattiesburg Mississippi and George W. Bush was slated to face off against John Kerry in the primary election. My school, like many others in the area, held a mock election to see who the students thought would become the next president. Being in Mississippi, it was no surprise that GW won by a landslide, but to this day I still like to tout that I voted for Kerry.

Eight long years pass, my family endures an economic downturn, category five hurricane, and the loss of my mother. It had been a tumultuous time for not only my family but the rest of the country as well. When seemingly out of nowhere this lanky figure with a funny name began to gain notoriety as a potential successor to George W. Bush, and he was black. I remember the excitement of those times fondly. Handing out yard signs, donating what little money I had to the campaign, dreaming of attending the inauguration. I became obsessed with the presidential election, and then on that faithful night in 2008, my father and I, sitting on the edge of our couch, watched Barak Obama become the first African American President of the United States. I have only seen my father cry twice in my life, once when my mother passed, and when he, a black man raised in south Mississippi, watched President Obama assume office on January 20th, 2009.

During the Obama years, I grew into my status and privilege as a black man. I found confidence in my skin where before was anxiety. I aspired to speak like him, walk like him, talk like him, change like him. It was partly his passion for education that drove me to apply for Teach for America. Once admitted, President Obama’s legacy became a mainstay in my classroom. He was a constant example of how with enough determination and grit, my students could do anything they set their minds to. As a second-grade teacher, I was in a special position. In 2016, my students were seven and eight years old. The only president they had ever known was Barak Obama. The only president they had ever known, was black.

However, now I fear that all the advancement, energy, and magic we experienced during the Obama years are under fire. We now live in a country where our leader builds walls instead of bridges, condemns dreamers instead of supremacists, and rejects education and science in favor of grandstanding and fake news. I worry that my kids will not find the same honor and reverence in the presidency that I once did.

Well I say no. It is up to us to preserve the legacy of President Obama and the many others who came before him. It is up to us as educators to reinforce the tenants of love and tolerance upon which this country was founded. America’s history is far from perfect. Though our moral arc is long, it began, under President Obama, to finally bend toward justice. During his tenure, we won marriage equality, affordable health care, and repaired a severely damaged economy. We can no longer count on our county’s leader to serve as a shining example of personhood. We as educators have now, more than ever, a responsibility to our students to take on this challenge ourselves. Only then will we create change that we can believe in.

Brandon Hersey is an educator, advocate, and YouTuber based in Seattle, Washington. To see more of Brandon’s work visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk4nUxYUvI7jC1Ux_FqSHng?view_as=subscriber or contact collegeofequity@gmail.com

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