Friday, October 31, 2014
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President Obama Needs to Continue to be a 'Ray of Sunshine, Symbol of Hope' for Children Across the Country

By Charisse Carney-Nunes

There is a lot of noise in the media today about whether it is appropriate for President Obama to address our nation's children. Not only is it appropriate, it is necessary.

I have known for many years how inspiring President Obama is. I knew him as a student at Harvard Law School in the early nineties where he was a high achiever and a gifted orator.

When he burst onto the world stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, his awesome speech was no surprise to those who'd known him at Harvard. Three years later, I learned of his Presidential bid and, though surprised by the timing, I immediately signed on because I knew that this man would inspire the nation. I felt like the rest of the world would now become privy to a secret that those familiar with him had been aware of for years.

However, what I didn't account for was the extraordinary impact that Barack Obama would have on children. As a children's author, I frequently traveled to schools nationwide promoting my work and talking to kids about child civic engagement. In late 2007, I began to notice that the promise and the example of Barack Obama was infectious among our youngest citizens. And by no means was this sentiment limited to children of color or to children of partisan parents. For children in general were interested in democracy -- interested in what they could do to make their homes, schools and communities a better place.

In the urban districts the fever was undeniable. I heard stories of little African-American boys pulling up their pants, wearing belts and shunning the prevalent, prison-inspired fashion statement known as 'sagging.' In my mother's school, there was a young African-American girl who made the honor role and openly gave the credit to Barack Obama. Before Barack she was uninspired and deemed unreachable, refusing to ignite the potential inside that all of her teachers knew was there.

Meeting these children, educators and parents gave me hope and sustenance. So I set about to collect some of these stories. This process made me understand that, as much as I may support Barack Obama, this moment is really not about Barack Obama; it's about so much more.

It's about the multi-racial child from Wisconsin who told me, "When I saw him in a magazine with the other candidates, I knew right away I picked him. It struck me like thunder. He made a good effort, followed his dreams and won... When I grow up I want to be an astronaut. Now Barack showed me that I can do it."

It's about the little African-American girl from New Jersey who told me, "When I see Barack Obama I see a ray of sunshine. I see a symbol of hope. Seeing Barack Obama makes me feel special and unique in my own way. I realize that a young girl like me can grow up and become President of the United States!"

It's about the mother in DC who told me that, even though she was not a Democrat and disagreed with President Obama's policies, she wanted her children to be inspired by President Obama's example.

As the mother of two young children, I spend a lot of time thinking about the media messages my children are exposed to. I wish that Disney or Nickelodeon would commit to publishing the scripts of Hannah Montana or iCarly in advance. While I allow my 9 year old daughter to watch these shows --which I find generally acceptable-- an occasionally risquŽ episode can run dangerously close to disturbing the values I am instilling in my child. I wonder if the parents who are so upset about the President's speech to school children have voiced similar concerns to the networks and advertisers who exert so much control over the messages our children receive on a daily basis.

My first presidential experience was meeting Ronald Reagan as a teen. Though my parents had not voted for him, I was still proud to shake the hand of a U.S. president as he congratulated me for receiving a White House award in Science & Technology. His message was inspiring and simple. Education is the key to success. Stay in school. Work hard. You can achieve the American dream.

The signed letter I received from President Reagan continues to decorate the foyer of my mother's house today. And even though I am at the opposite end of the political spectrum from this late President, his letter still inspires me. And yes, we should allow our children the opportunity to be inspired by our President as well.

Charisse Carney-Nunes is Senior Vice President of The Jamestown Project and author of the children's book, "I Am Barack Obama."

Category: Op-Ed


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