On grief and gratitude: saying goodbye to President Obama.

The movers unloaded the furniture and personal items at the Obamas' new D.C. residence, and I find myself ill-prepared to say goodbye.

I've been shuffling through the past few weeks in a haze, clinging to the first family's final moments in the White House, lost in what can only be described as a kind of grief.

President Barack Obama cries as he speaks during his farewell address in Chicago. Photo by Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images.


I don’t have to agree with my president. I don’t have to want to share a beer with him or want to be his friend. But win or lose, I want my president to be just that: my president.

I want him to think of me or, more accurately, people like me. People who don’t look like him, act like him, or necessarily agree with him. I want him to consider people who live a world away from him in class, geography, age, and upbringing. I want my president to listen to demonstrators and respond not with threats or aggression but with compassion and be open to criticism and feedback. I want my president to have some respect for this country and its citizens, whether they voted for him or not.

I grieve not for the man who’s leaving, but for the people who stand to lose when he departs.

His successor campaigned on and is setting into motion a wave of policy changes that threaten the health, safety, and well-being of millions of Americans.

I grieve for the people who may lose their access to their medical insurance and affordable health care, including from clinics like Planned Parenthood. I grieve for the people of color, Muslims, and Jews who fear for their safety in the wake of brutal hate crimes and the sexual assault survivors who may be reminded of their own attacks every single time this man takes the podium. I grieve for the refugees and immigrants who face uncertain futures, no matter how long they've called this country home. And I grieve for the LGBTQ individuals, couples, and families who fear their marriages and civil rights are on the chopping block.  

Whether they voted for him, against him, or not at all, millions of people — many of them already vulnerable — will be left to deal with the consequences of this president-elect's decisions. I think of all this, and I grieve.

Obama greets kids at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

I still remember listening to Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” no less than a dozen times the day after Obama was elected.

I held my head high on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008, my old, crappy earbuds falling out and lovingly replaced with each confident step.

Two months later, I cheered, hollered, and shed a small frozen tear at his chilly inauguration. Nothing could dim my shine. My president was black.

Obama tours Kenai Fjords National Park by boat. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

But it was more than that.

My president believed in education. He read books. Lots of them. He trusted good science. He encouraged children (and grown-ups) to invent, create, code, and think their way to a better world.

Obama sits with a Lego statue during preparations for the South by South Lawn event at the White House.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Medium.

My president was put together. He was mature and cool under pressure. He carried himself with the gravitas, passion, and self-deprecating sense of humor his position demanded, even when it would've been easier to resort to vicious attacks.

Obama in the Rose Garden. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

My president was accessible. Maybe not, "here's my cell phone number" accessible, but he opened the doors of the White House to welcome diverse performers, experts, civilians, nonprofit leaders, children, and more from across the nation and around the world, even starting his own Big Block of Cheese Day. He made the White House "our" house again.

Obama  talks with Girl Scouts, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the White House Science Fair in 2015. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy/Flickr.

My president was kind. He smiled around kids. He paid attention to people from all walks of life. He doted on his wife. His daughters seemed to adore him. He was well respected, affable, and compassionate.

My president made me proud. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama join hands with Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) as they lead the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, in Selma, Alabama. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson/Flickr.

President Obama wasn’t perfect. Far from it.

He approached issues at home and abroad in ways I didn’t always agree with, and without the sense of urgency some situations required. From his use of drone strikes to the delays and silence at Standing Rock and multiple moments and missteps in between. I often wonder how much more he could have accomplished, how much further we’d be today if he’d acted with the progressive courage we saw on the campaign trail in 2008.

Obama takes a call in the Oval Office. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

Still, I will remember his presidency fondly. On Inauguration Day, I will grieve. Then, I will get back to work.

That former grad student blasting old Kanye still remembers how good it felt to have hope. How strong and powerful I felt when I spoke up and knew my voice was heard. We all deserve to feel that, and feel respected by our elected leaders, no matter who is in the White House.

A lot of things change with a new administration, but doing what's right and treating people with respect should not.

The president's wave aligns with a rainbow as he boards Air Force One. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/Flickr.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

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Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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