Today, the story of how a Hillsboro native’s thoughtful gesture reminds me just how much President Obama means to millions of Americans. But first, a few words of praise for Hillary Clinton.
On election night, Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race was not the most surprising part of the night to me. I always thought this was a change election, and I suspected that the polls were undervaluing Trump’s support.
No, the most surprising part of the night for me was when Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede. That was the part of the night that shocked me most.
I had written a column a few weeks ago – when the media was in an uproar over Trump saying he would wait until the election to decide whether he would accept the results – saying that Hillary Clinton, if she lost, was much more likely to contest the results than Trump would be. I was wrong.
Hillary Clinton demonstrated a greater level of class, integrity and even patriotism with her quick concession of the election than I would have ever given her credit for. Her concession speech a few hours later demonstrated more of the same, urging all Americans to give the new president-elect a chance. My hat is off to her.
Which brings me to President Obama, who I will praise today by sharing a story about Hillsboro native Janice Myers.
Janice Myers is an African American woman who was born in Hillsboro in 1935, the daughter of Barrett and Laura Williams. A few months ago, we ran a story about Mrs. Myers, who, along with her husband, Sylvester C. Myers, has had a remarkable life.
Mrs. Myers, who lives today with her husband in Bradenton, Florida, served as executive vice president of S.C. Myers & Associates, Inc., a construction management company she co-founded with her husband in Washington, D.C.
Throughout her life, she has held important positions with the National Education Association, the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Economic Commission (JECOR), the Department of the Treasury, the Woman’s National Democratic Club of Washington, D.C., the D.C. Chamber of Commerce Women’s Committee Advisory Board, the National Federation of Black Women Business Owners Advisory Committee, the Women’s Committee of the National Symphony Orchestra, and the United Nations Women Association (UNW-USA), Gulf Coast Chapter.
Her list of accomplishments goes on and on. There are photographs I have seen of her with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in the White House and, before that, in the Oval Office with President Gerald Ford.
Mrs. Myers is putting the finishing touches on a book about her life called, “Polishing the Ruby: A Memoir.” According to the publisher, the book will share the author’s “family values, instilled by her hardworking parents, that formed the foundation for a life of tenacity, sacrifice, and hard-won rewards,” along with “her simple, faith-based strategies for success.” I can’t wait to read it, and I’ll let you know when it’s ready so you can read it, too.
I have spoken with her by phone, and she is a sweet, darling lady. She was so appreciative of the story that we ran in The Times-Gazette that she sent several notes and called to leave an appreciative voicemail. She had a cake delivered to our office by local resident Elsie Young, who is 100, and Elsie’s daughter, Carolyn Goins.
Then, a few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail. I opened it to discover, tucked within a handsome case, a beautiful hardcover book with gold-leaf edged pages called, “Yes We Can – Daily Celebrations of the Legacy of President Barack Obama.” The cover features gold-embossed lettering that says, “Created exclusively for Gary Abernathy.” It was, of course, a gift from Mrs. Myers. The book is in the fashion of one of those “thought for the day” books, with each date of the year featuring an inspirational quote from President Obama.
I never voted for Barack Obama, based on political differences, just as I never voted for Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton. But I have always recognized the significance of Obama’s election and re-election. Like all children growing up, black youngsters had always been told through the years that anyone can grow up to become president. But for the first time in history, they actually saw it become a reality, and just how inspirational that must have been – and must still be – is impossible to overstate.
Hillary Clinton tried to equate her goal of being the first woman elected president with Obama’s achievement. But they are not comparable. Hillary is white, and being a white woman in America is still more advantageous than being a black man or woman.
A lot of African American (and other minority) voters apparently agreed. While Hillary comfortably won the minority vote, she did not match Obama’s numbers in either volume or percentage. Black and Hispanic voters supported Trump by slightly larger numbers this election than they supported John McCain or Mitt Romney against Obama. (Since 1976, the Republican presidential candidate has won the overall white vote every election by varying margins.)
Mrs. Myers is in her 80s now. I think of the challenges people like Mrs. Myers, Mrs. Young and so many others have seen in their lifetimes, from Jim Crow laws to the civil rights battles of the 1950s and ‘60s to all the other instances, large and small, of racial prejudice. And I think how proud, how moved, they must have been when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
And so, this beautiful book of the inspirational sayings of Barack Obama that Mrs. Myers took the time and money to have personally inscribed to me sits on my office desk. I am proud of it. I am humbled by her thoughtfulness.
Whether Barack Obama is remembered by historians as a great, good or average president is irrelevant for millions of African Americans – emphasis on “Americans” – because he took the notion of a black man becoming president of the United States from the realm of theory to the world of reality.
The book on my desk will always remind me how meaningful that achievement was and will always be to a large segment of our society, in ways that perhaps as a white person I may never be able to fully comprehend, but I can still acknowledge, appreciate and honor.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.