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Obama's

Legacy
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OBAMASLEGACY

America just spent 8 years with a black president. For many African Americans, it
meant one big thing: freedom to dream
ByJAWEEDKALEEM(HTTP://WWW.LATIMES.COM/LABIOJAWEEDKALEEMSTAFF.HTML),KURTISLEE(HTTP://WWW.LATIMES.COM/LABIOKURTISLEE
STAFF.HTML)ANDJENNYJARVIE
JAN. 16, 2017

Andrew Jackson II and his family attended President Obamas inauguration in January 2009. This is what America is supposed to be about,
Jackson recalls thinking. (Video by Carolyn Cole and Robert Meeks / Los Angeles Times)

ightyearsago,AndrewJacksonIIsawhimselfonthecuspof
possibilityinaworldoffirsts.

HeboardedabusthatJanuarywithdozensoffamilymembersand
friends,headedtotheNationalMalltowatchthenationsfirstblack
presidentthefirstpersonhehadevervotedformakehistory.

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AshewatchedthejumboscreensshowBarackObamasworninonthat
subfreezingday,hisbodywassweptwithwarmth.
Icantakeachancetobreathe,heremembersthinking.Obamawill
putusontherightcourse.
Hewas27andlivingonhisownaftergraduatingfromLouisianaState
University.Byday,heworkedataflooringwarehouse,buthisspare
timewasspentauditioningformusicalsinHouston'sburgeoningarts
scene.HesawafuturebreakinghisownbarriersasasingerinAtlanta
oranactorinHollywood.
Today,Jacksonisbacklivinginafourroomtrailernexttohisparents
houseinruralLouisiana,whereheworksthreejobsandmakes
$22,000ayear.Hehasa17montholdsonwithanex,andowesmore
than$20,000inschoolloans.Hesstoppedacting,thoughhestill
spendsweekendssingingatsportsbarsandloungesinBatonRouge.
WethoughtourdreamswouldbemorevisibleunderObama,hesaid
recentlyfromhishome,whichliesoffagravelroadacrossfroma
barrensugarcanefield.Theyrenot.

Jackson rides the subway in Washington while in town for Obamas first inauguration.

Andrew Jackson IIs parents, Andrew and Brenda, and his son Tamir at their home in Jeanerette, La. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

We thought our dreams would be more visible under Obama. Theyre not.
Andrew Jackson II

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AsObamaleavesoffice,hisapprovalratingsremainamongthehighest
ofexitingpresidents.TheyreevenbetteramongAfricanAmericans.
ButpollshaveshownblackpeopletobemoresatisfiedwithObamathe
manandlesswiththeirprogressunderObamathepresident.
Thingshaveimprovedfromthedarkdaysoftherecession,saidMarc
Morial,chiefexecutiveoftheNationalUrbanLeague,whichthismonth
releasedalargelypositivescorecardonthepresidentsrecordonjobs,
education,civilrightsandhealthforblackAmerica.Buttherecovery
forAfricanAmericanshasnotbeenasfastorasdeepasitsbeenfor
whites.

U.S. poverty rates


Black

Latino

White

30%
25
20
15
10
5
0

2008

2012

2015

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


Joe Fox / @latimesgraphics
Blackemploymentgrewin2015,hittingitshighestnumberssince
beforetherecession.Povertyisdecreasinglifeexpectancyisgoingup.
Gapsbetweenblacksandotherracialgroupsineducationaregradually
closing.ButunemploymentamongAfricanAmericansisstillnearly
twicethatofwhites,andblackscontinuetomakeupadisproportionate
numberofprisoners.Morethanaquarterofthecountrys37million
AfricanAmericansstillliveinpoverty.
IninterviewsacrossthecountryatthetwilightofObamaspresidency,
manyAfricanAmericanscreditedthehopeandchangepresident
withreformingunfairsentencingprocedures,bringinghealth
insurancetomillionsandholdingviolentpolicedepartments
accountable.Butwhentherewassomuchtodo,manywondered,was
thatenough?
Imtiredofhearingaboutthedream,saidFabianWilliams,a41
yearoldartistfromAtlanta.Imoverpoeticsentiment.Itsounds
good,butthecountryhasbeenstuckinthesamepositionfor40years.
InJeanerette,aprimarilyAfricanAmericantownof5,533twohours
westofNewOrleans,theObamayearshaven'tchangedmuch.

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TheFruitoftheLoomdistributioncentershutdownin2010,taking
nearly200jobswithit.Thevastsugarcanefieldsthrive,buttheyre
largelyownedbyoutsidecompaniesandtilledbymigrantworkers,
oftenMexicans.Adesolatedowntownstripwithshutteredstorefronts
recentlycelebratedtheopeningofaSubwaysandwichshop.
Youngpeoplehaveflockedaway,andthemiddleschoolclosedafew
yearsagoJacksonsparentsattendchurchintheabandonedschool
buildingnow.
Jacksonspendshisdaysatadeskjobatalocalnonprofitwherehe
helpssecurecommunitygrants.Atnight,hemanagesalocalbingo
hall.
Theresstillhope,hesays.Buthesloweredhisambitions.
Iusedtowanttoberich.IwantedtobeDenzelWashingtonorWill
Smith.Now,hesays,Iwanttobehealthyandwellenoughtotake
careofmyfamily.
Howisit,hewonders,thathissightsgotsetsomuchlower?Iman
educatedyoungmanfromaveryaccrediteduniversityinthestateof
Louisiana.Like,Icantfindadecentjob?Thisiscrazy.

Andrew Jackson II with his son Tamir. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly1,800milesawayinCompton,Calif.,SharoniLittlehas
consideredObamaafatherfiguretothetwoboysshesraisedonher
owninacityplaguedbygangviolenceandfailingschools.
Itsgoingtobetough.Really,really,tough,Little,51,saidasshesat
inthelivingroomofherfamilysmodestsinglelevelhouseina
neighborhoodofneatlytendedlawnsnotfarfromtheroarofthe91
Freeway.
Obamamementosarescatteredeverywhere.Aknitblanketdepicting
thefirstcoupleisdrapedacrossthesofa,andastickerfixedonadoor
quotesMichelleObamasfamousline,Whentheygolow,wegohigh.
AbookonU.S.presidentssitsonanendtable,featuringGeorge
WashingtonandObamaonthecover.

Sharoni Little of Compton considers Obama a father figure to the two sons shes raised on her own in a city plagued by gang violence and failing
schools. (Photo by Marcus Yam, video by Jessica Q. Chen and Albert Lee / Los Angeles Times)

Little,abusinessprofessoratUSC,campaignedforObamain2008,
goingdoortodoorwithhertwosons.JaredandJarenwere10atthe
time,thesameageasObamasolderdaughter.
Theboyssaw,everyday,amanwholookedlikethem.Amanwho
understoodthem,whounderstoodwhatitsliketobeablackmanin
thiscountry,shesaid.Hehasmadeitclearthattheyhaveeveryright
tositatanytable.
AfterTrayvonMartin,ablackteenager,wasshottodeathbya
neighborhoodwatchvolunteerinFloridaalmostfiveyearsago,Little
wasmovedtotearsasObamaspokeonTVabouthow,ifhehadason,
hedlooklikeTrayvon.MartinwasaroundthesameageasJaredand
Jaren.
Shehadgivenherkidsthetalkabouthow,asblackboys,somepeople
willseethemasthreatsandiftheyarepoliceofficers,theywillhave
guns.Shefeltevenmoreurgencyasprotestsoverthedeathsofblack
menafterviolentpoliceencounterseruptedinFerguson,Mo.,
BaltimoreandNewYork.
Wenowhadsomeonespeakingoutagainsttheinjusticebecausewe
hadsomeonewhohadbeenasubjectofit,Littlesaid.

Littles sons, Jaren and Jared Savage, ride to school in their mothers car. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

LittlelaudedObamaslegacyoneducation,healthcareandcriminal
justicereform,andshebristleswhenshehearsAfricanAmericanssay
Obamadidnotdoenoughtoimproveblacklives.
Shecreditsaneffortthepresidentspearheadedaimedatempowering
youngblackandLatinomen,MyBrothersKeeper,withhelpingher
raisehersons.
Thementoringprogramhaspairedtheboysoverthepastthreeyears
withblackmalerolemodels,includinglocalpoliticiansand
professionals.OnehelpedJaredearnhisprivatepilotslicense,andhe
hasbeenacceptedattheFloridaInstituteofTechnology,wherehell
studyaerospaceengineering.Jarenhaspickedupphotography,
snappingpicturesofhighendsportscarsattradeshows.
Whenshestartstofeelitstoohardtoraisetwosonsonherown,Little
remembersthatObamasmotheralsodiditalone.Thepresidenthas
notonlyshownitsokaytocomefromsingleparenthomes,butthat
itsnotabarrier,shesaid.

Jared Savage, left, Sharoni Little and Jaren Savage say a prayer before breakfast at their Compton home. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

AcrossthecountryinAtlanta,Williams,theartist,remembersdriving
morethan600milestoWashingtonforObamasinaugurationin
2009.
ItwassortofCinderellaforblackpeople,hesaid.Allaroundhim,
strangershuggedandpassedplatesofpizzaandchickenwings.Just
likeatchurch,butinpolitics.Idneverseenanythinglikeit.Itwas
hopeful,youknow?Ithoughtwedtranscendedrace.
Hewas33,andnowseeshisyoungerselfasnaive.Now,hesaid,hehas
bothfeetinreality.HeunderstandsbetterthechallengesObama
facedthatkepthimfromgettingmoredone.

Fabian Williams, an Atlanta artist, discusses Obamas legacy: Right now I believe were in this position that we are because people havent been
thinking critically and analyzing history and acknowledging its repeating itself. Weve been here before. (Video by Carolyn Cole and Robert Meeks
/ Los Angeles Times)

Heremembersthetimeawhitecongressmanshouted,Youlie!
duringapresidentialaddress.ThetimeaFoxNewsanchorsawfitto
askwhetherajubilantfistbumpexchangedbythefirstcouplewasa
terroristfistjab.Hewonderswhypeoplearestillaskingwhere
Obamawasborn.
Imdisappointedinhumans,Williamssaid,sittinginhiscluttered
basementstudio.Youknowhowdifficultitisgivenwhoheis.You
cantdeductracefromanythinghere.Werenotpostracial.
Williamspaintsbright,cosmicmuralsthatbeliehisowndark
frustrations.Someportraypoliticiansaspuppetscontrolledbybig
money.OnedepictstheRev.MartinLutherKingJr.glowingasheruns
barefootthroughadreamlikeconstellationofstars,pointingone
forefingertotheviewerandanothertothewordsWAKEUP.

Williams sketches while watching the news, a source of inspiration for the artist. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Fromthebeginning,hesaid,hesawObamaassomeonehecould
modelhimselfafter.
Ihavefourdifferentkidswiththreemothers....Ilookedatthis
president,andtherewasnodrama,nomistresses.Justbeautifulkids,
andasteadywife.
Thepresidentgavehimtheconfidencetoquithislucrativecareerasa
graphicdesignertobeafulltimeartist:Hewentfromearning
$130,000ayearto,oneyear,aslittleas$22,000.

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Now,whilehesproudofhisdecisionandwouldn'tchangeit,hecant
affordhealthinsuranceandisntsurehe'lleverbuyahouse.

Asforwhatthepresidentwasabletoaccomplish,Williamscreditshim
withhaltingthefinancialcrisisandprojectingAmericancredibilityto
therestoftheworld.
Butwhenitcametoaddressingpoliceshootingsofblacksathome,he
said,Americasfirstblackpresidentseemedaloof.
Hewastooeloquent,toocool,toopassive,Williamssaid.Ijustcan't
givehimagoodgradeintermsofcivilrightsforblackpeople.We
didntgetanything,really.

I just can't give him a good grade in terms of civil rights for
black people. We didnt get anything, really.
Fabian Williams

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A mural by Williams in downtown Atlanta features the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., titled MLK Wake Up. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

ForanoldergenerationofAfricanAmericans,backinLouisiana,ithas
beeneasiertocountaccomplishmentsthanregretmissed
opportunitiestherehavealwaysbeenplentyofthose.
"IneverimaginedI'dseeablackpresidentinmylifetime,"saidBrenda
Jackson,Andrews65yearoldmother,whoin2008hadorganizedthe
familystriptotheinaugurationevenwhileHillaryClintonandObama

werestillcompetingintheDemocraticprimaries.
"Igrewupwithmyfamilyworkingonasugarcaneplantationbefore
theCivilRightsAct.Sotoseehimupthere,ohmy,itwassomething,"
saidJackson,aprolificcommunityvolunteerwhoraisesmoneyfor
textbookscholarships.

The elder Andrew Jackson, left, and Brenda Jackson, center, at a church service. (Carolyn Cole / Los
Angeles Times)

ShefollowedhiseverymoveonTVwhenhewasfirstelected,praying
hewouldntbeassassinated.AsshewatchedaCNNspeciallastmonth
onObamaslegacy,shebrokedownintearswhenshethoughtabout
allthehatethathadbeendirectedhisway.
Jacksonhashadherdoubts.AChristianwhoismoreconservativethan
hersonwhenitcomestoreligion,shedidntlikeitwhenhesupported
samesexmarriage.Hersonsaysmanyofhisfriendshavebeenunable
toleavesugarcountryorfindgoodjobsoverthepasteightyears.
Somearebackinjail,hesaid.Someofthemaredead.
Still,BrendaJacksoncreditsthepresidentfordoingwhathecoulddo.
Hewasabletoaccomplishallthathecouldaccomplish,"shesaid.He
wasamanofgrace.
TimesstaffwritersKaleemreportedfromJeanerette,La.,andLee
fromCompton.SpecialcorrespondentJarviereportedfromAtlanta.
Contactthereporters
(mailto:jaweed.kaleem@latimes.comkurtis.lee@latimes.com).
Follow@jaweedkaleem(https://twitter.com/jaweedkaleem)and
@kurtisalee(https://twitter.com/kurtisalee)onTwitter.

Readmore

Race is an integral part of Obamas story, and he embraced its


complexity

(http://www.latimes.com/projects/lanapolobamaracelegacy)

Additional credits: Sean Greene

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Notsurehowfailingtobecomeagreatstarhasanythingtodowith
ObamaoranyotherPresident.It'saverydifficultthingtodoandmost
whotrydon'tmakeit.Regardingtheprofessorwhereisthefatherof
herboys?Nomentionofhim.Givingupagoodjobtobecomean
artist?Themanistalented,butheshouldrealizethatoneofthe