This week has felt like a funeral march, full of goodbye speeches, looks back on the good times, and promises to make the person we are about to lose feel proud of us going forward. As I listened to Obama’s farewell address and simultaneously learned via Twitter about DJT’s new “golden showers” headlines, it struck me that what was really getting to me is that we are losing one of the few stand-up men left in 2017. Obama is a man to be proud of: he stands up for the rights of so many that do not have the power he holds, he is honest about his both his mistakes and his accomplishments, he believes in women and shows that every day by venerating his magnificent wife and daughters, and he makes me feel safe and like I should want nothing more than to work harder to support his legacy.
Throughout his years in the White House (and prior) Obama has always made it known that he is a reader. He is a strong advocate of literacy programs, an avid reader, and a writer himself. I’ve always looked forward to his summer reading lists, he is interested in varied topics and he puts as much value on fiction as he does non-fiction. He encourages kids to read, both his own girls and students he has read to himself at the White House. If the President has enough time to read (and talk about the importance of reading), we all should have enough time to read.
In an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2016 entitled “Farewell to the reader in chief”, author John McMurtrie details many of Obama’s efforts to emphasize the importance of reading, of literary education and literacy programs, and of celebrating writers for their contributions to our society and culture. In the article, Obama is quoted saying,
“When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”
If that isn’t a ringing endorsement for picking up a book, I don’t know what is.
In a more recent article in the New York Times, “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books”, Obama delves even more in the the reading that has helped keep him centered as a young student, a young adult, and even as the President. He talks about using the writings of different historical figures to educate himself, a philosophy that is so evident in his continued push for literacy programs, especially in low-income areas where access to books can truly change a child’s education.
I see so much of why I personally love to read in Obama’s reflections on his love of books, but more importantly, I see how I can focus my energies into an area that will continue to safeguard the positive legacy he is leaving to us to protect.
Education in this country needs to be protected (especially from Betsy DeVos) and literacy programs need to continue to be funded and supported across the country. Recently the National Book Foundation has partnered with both the Departments of Education and Housing to ensure donations that will be directed entirely towards Public Housing Authority communities, areas known to lack in the availability of books. This is just one initiative that aims to increase literacy levels in hopes of creating a more sustainable society moving forward. Literacy is key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals relating to education and with this mission in mind, I will continue to read, to teach, and to work in any way that I can to support education and literacy, just as Obama himself would. See the bottom of this post for links to the programs and initiatives mentioned here.*
As I mentioned in my last post I plan to both shape my reading list and my reflections on recent reads through the lens of getting to understand other cultures, communities, and groups of people better. Reading is how I continue to educate myself, just like Obama, and I encourage others to do the same.
*More articles and blog posts on the recent initiatives and SDGs mentioned above:
All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and The Rise of an Independent Nation – Rebecca Traister
Palimpsest: A Memoir – Gore Vidal
Books: A Memoir – Larry McMurtry
The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison – Mikita Brottman
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban – Malala Yousafzai – Review
Scar Tissue – Anthony Keidis
Just Kids – Patti Smith
People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
How To Build A Girl – Caitlin Moran
Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – Gabrielle Hamilton
Links to reviews coming soon