barackobama The arts have always been central to the American experience. Throughout our time in the White House, Michelle and I displayed work from artists who provoked thought, challenged our assumptions, and shaped how we define our narrative as a country. Every time visitors entered the Old Family Dining Room, they would look up at Alma Thomas’s “Resurrection,” the first painting by a Black woman that was hung in the White House. And every time I welcomed guests to the Oval Office—from world leaders to touring teenagers—I made sure they would be met with Charles Alston's bronze bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. These pieces, I hoped, would remind all who look at them to contemplate our past; and recommit to doing their part to build a better future.
barackobama Today, after a comprehensive federal regulatory review process, I’m proud to announce the Obama Presidential Center will break ground in 2021.
Michelle and I couldn’t be more excited to bring this new center of energy, connection, and growth to the South Side of Chicago. Along with the thousands of jobs it will create, our hope is that the Obama Presidential Center can serve as a catalyst for long-overdue investment in and around historic Jackson Park. That’s why we’re working with local partners to create a new destination to help inspire visitors from hope to action, breathe new life into the park, and deliver real benefits to the community we love.
Getting to this point would not have been possible without the many Chicagoans who have been a part of this process. So I want to thank each and every person out there who helped us reach this milestone—and for their continued partnership in the years to come.
barackobama Black-owned independent bookstores play a critical role in communities all across our country. I wanted to show my support, so I dropped in to surprise the folks from @MahoganyBooks & the Very Smart Brothas Book Club. Take a look.
barackobama On this day in 2009, I signed my first bill into law: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The legislation was named after an unassuming Alabaman who deep into a long career at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, had discovered that she’d routinely been paid less than her male counterparts.
Lilly would go on to file a wage discrimination suit against the company. It should have been a slam dunk, but in 2007, defying all common sense, the Supreme Court had disallowed the lawsuit. According to Justice Samuel Alito, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act required Lilly to have filed her claim within 180 days of when the discrimination first occurred—in other words, six months after she received her first paycheck, and many years before she actually discovered the pay disparity. For over a year, Republicans in the Senate had blocked corrective action (with President Bush promising to veto it if it passed). But thanks to the quick legislative work by our emboldened Democratic majorities, the bill sat ready to be signed on a small ceremonial desk in the East Room.
Lilly and I had become friends during the campaign. I knew her family, knew her struggles. She stood next to me that day as I put my signature on the bill, using a different pen for each letter of my name. I thought not just about Lilly but also about my mother, and my grandmother, Toot, and all the other working women across the country who had ever been passed over for promotions or been paid less than they were worth. The legislation I was signing wouldn’t reverse centuries of discrimination. But it was something, a small step forward. This is why I ran, I told myself. This is what the office can do.
barackobama When Cicely Tyson was born, doctors predicted she wouldn’t make it three months because of a murmur in her heart. What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, was that Cicely had a heart unlike any other — the kind that would not only beat for 96 more years but leave a mark on the world that few could match.
In her extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson was one of the rare award-winning actors whose work on the screen was surpassed only by what she was able to accomplish off of it.
Cicely wasn’t exactly destined for Hollywood. When she was a child, her mother — a hardworking and religious woman who cleaned houses — didn’t even let her go to the movies. But once Cicely got her education, she made a conscious decision not just to say her lines but to speak her truth.
At a time when parts for actors who looked like her weren’t easy to come by, she refused to take on roles that reduced Black women to their gender or their race. Sometimes, that meant she would go years without work. But she took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections. Across all of her performances, in legendary productions ranging from “Sounder” to “The Trip to Bountiful” to “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” she helped us see the dignity within all who made up our miraculous — and, yes, messy — American family.
Michelle and I were honored when Cicely came to the White House to accept the Medal of Freedom, knowing she was one of the many giants upon whose shoulders we stood — a trailblazer whose legacy couldn’t be measured by her Emmys and Tony and Oscar alone, but by the barriers she broke and the dreams she made possible.
We are sending our thoughts and prayers to every member of Cicely’s family and to all of those who loved her. And while we are saddened that her heart finally came to a rest today, there is comfort in knowing that she will always live on in ours.
barackobama Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.
Whenever Michelle and I spent time with Hank and his wife Billye, we were struck by their kindness, generosity and grace—and were reminded that we stood on the shoulders of a previous generation of trailblazers.
A child of the Jim Crow South, Hank quit high school to join the Negro League, playing shortstop for $200 a month before earning a spot in Major League Baseball. Humble and hardworking, Hank was often overlooked until he started chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, at which point he began receiving death threats and racist letters—letters he would reread decades later to remind himself “not to be surprised or hurt.”
Those letters changed Hank, but they didn’t stop him. After breaking the home run record, he became one of the first Black Americans to hold a senior management position in Major League Baseball. And for the rest of his life, he never missed an opportunity to lead—including earlier this month, when Hank and Billye joined civil rights leaders and got COVID vaccines.
Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example.
barackobama In so many ways, this was a different kind of inauguration—with so much of the pomp and pageantry muted by a pandemic that is still raging. But the most sacred tradition of Inauguration Day couldn’t be stopped: Today, we watched a new president take his oath and usher in a renewal of our democracy.
Michelle and I were honored to be there to support President Biden and Vice President Harris on this historic day.
And while our country still faces no shortage of challenges, there is no one I have more faith in to lead us out of them than Joe. This is a man whose life is defined by resilience—who has mastered the art of transforming pain into purpose. And I know he will do the same for our country. Turning the grief of this pandemic into a chance to vaccinate a nation. Picking up the pieces of a devastated economy and building back a better one—where everyone is in on the deal. Replacing the division and hatred of the last four years with the kind of leadership that binds our wounds and brings us together.
He’ll be served well by a loyal, brilliant, visionary ally at his side. In Vice President Harris, our country will be privileged to have someone whose history-making day will be followed by the kind of hard work—for the people—she has done her entire career.
That’s why I’m as hopeful as ever. We may face great challenges. But as Joe said today: "Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity. Love and healing. Greatness and goodness. May this be the story that guides us."
barackobama If anyone had a right to question whether our democracy was worth redeeming, it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Because in the face of billy clubs and lynchings, poll taxes and literacy tests, he never gave in to violence, never waved a traitorous flag, never gave up on the country he called home, despite all of the injustices and indignities it brought upon him.
Instead, he set out to realize his dream the most effective—and the most radical—way he knew how, by working with others to march, boycott, and sit in, recognizing that, as he said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The seeds of his courage, his discipline, his vision, and the resilience of all who joined with him took years to bear fruit. But they gave us the Civil Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act. And an American tradition of nonviolent resistance that has rung through the generations, as we saw this summer when Americans of all races echoed his example in standing up to declare that Black Lives Matter—no more but also no less.
On #MLKDay , we celebrate his life but we’re also called to live out his values through service of our own. Here are some ways you can get involved in your community: bideninaugural.org/day-of-service/
We’re in the middle of a tough chapter for our country, but #MLKDay should serve as a reminder that we have been through tough times before—and emerged from them stronger. But only because we never stopped believing in our democracy. Only because we never stopped working to perfect it. And only because, even in the face of intimidation, discrimination, and unimaginable suffering, we never stopped dreaming of a better day—and never stopped doing the long, hard, essential work of ushering it in.
barackobama Tomorrow is Election Day in Georgia and the stakes could not be higher. We’re seeing how far some will go to retain power and threaten the fundamental principles of our democracy. But our democracy isn’t about any individual, even a president—it’s about you.
If you’re a Georgia voter, you can respond tomorrow with the most powerful tool we have as Americans—your vote. Make a plan to vote in person tomorrow or drop off your mail-in ballot at a ballot drop box. And make sure to check-in with your family and friends to do the same at iwillvote.com/GA.
For those looking for ways to help @RaphaelWarnock and @JonOssoff get elected, you can find opportunities to volunteer from anywhere at flipthesenate.com.