Kid President Robby Novak was invited to visit President Obama in the Oval Office when he was nine years old. Indisputably the story of a boy’s dream come true, their time together also underscored President Obama’s core beliefs as they pertain to good governance and leadership.
The President invited Kid President to sit at his desk so he could imagine what it’s like to be in a position of power and carry the immense responsibility of Head of State, “the symbol of all the people.”
The image of a grown man of African descent, also the “leader of the free world,” welcoming a young African American child to sit in his chair speaks volumes. It encapsulates our national pride, perseverance, and potential in a single gesture of welcome.
As Kid President fidgeted with the President’s pen, they talked about what it means to balance the work you do for yourself and the work you do for others – in Robby’s case, being a third grader and also a very active and inspirational YouTube phenomenon.
Obama gave his guest a tour of the Oval Office, pointing out items that symbolize American progress at its most hopeful:
- A telegraph, a 19th century means of communicating over great distances, which required the sender and receiver to honor a shared system for encoding messages
- A program from the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech
- A portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who led our country through Civil War, and in doing so, preserved the Union, strengthened government, and abolished slavery
- A framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation issued and signed by Lincoln in 1863 to alter the legal status of 3 million people from “slave” to “free”
- A bust of Dr. Martin Luther King
Kid President came prepared with a question – the best question: “How can kids and grown ups work together to change the world?”
Here’s what Barack Obama said: “The most important thing we can all do is to treat each other with kindness and respect.”
The President emphasized the importance of being nice to each other, to speak out on behalf of those in need or in pain or alone, and to treat everyone – as in, literally, every person – fairly, “no matter what they look like or where they’re from.”
Why am I writing this down when you could just watch the video? Because each and every word spoken, each and every sentiment expressed, each and every message couched in what Robby later characterized as “small talk,” was actually very big talk indeed. This seemingly casual, YouTube-happy, lightweight, click-friendly, feel-good conversation represents something huge for us as Americans.
Watching the video again in the wake of the election results, I cried. Hard.
I cried because I, too, believe in fairness, true empathy, and mutual respect. I also believe they are the only answer to the hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and intolerance so prevalent throughout the world.
I cried because the current President Elect has shown us that none of these humanitarian values rank high, if at all, on his list of priorities. On the contrary, this non-statesman’s entire campaign amounts to an outright assault on the very principles of decency and democracy – which, by extension, equals an assault on those who hold them dear (read: the majority of the electorate).
I cried out of anger, understanding with painful clarity the work that lies ahead for all of us. I cried, too, because I’m afraid, and I know I need to look those fears in the face and do my best to overcome them with fortitude and grace and love. Somehow.
I cried for my children, who have been watching me very closely for the past week, who simply don’t understand how meanness could actually win; who are worried about their less fortunate friends and how life will change for them.
When Kid President asked the President his beautiful question about how all ages can work together to change the world, Obama closed with this:
Kids can learn right away in school and on the playground to be nice to each other. If you see a kid being picked on, you make sure you stand up for him. If (people) start learning to do that as kids and everybody is respectful of each other… when they grow up, they’ll be doing the same thing. And we’ll have a lot fewer problems. Don’t you think?
“Yeah,” agreed Kid President.
Let’s do everything in our power to ensure that our country as a whole can show the world that we believe this, too.