The reverend saw a man of integrity.
The community organizer saw hope.
The mayor saw a point of pride for his people.
The students saw an inspiration.
When Barack Obama assumed the presidency in January 2009, they all saw someone who looked like them, who faced some of their same hurdles in life, leading the free world.
With Obama’s eight-year tenure leading the United States coming to an end Friday, black Tacomans young and old reflected on what his presidency meant to them.
The Rev. Gregory Christopher had high praise for Obama’s character, his intelligence and his compassion as president.
“We had no scandals, by God’s grace, with President Obama,” said Christopher, 59. “He was a man of integrity.”
To the longtime Shiloh Baptist Church preacher and NAACP local president, Obama also was an effective leader who politically addressed the needs of Christopher’s flock and community.
“It was clear that he didn’t want his legacy to be that he was an African-American president, but certainly he addressed some of the issues that affect African-Americans,” Christopher said.
Health care reform touched the lives of more than half of Christopher’s flock. Changing prosecutorial policy through the Department of Justice gave minorities a fairer shake in the legal system, he said.
Even marriage equality became a symbol of Obama’s accomplishments to Christopher, despite his personal misgivings.
He said he learned from Obama, too: the value of democracy and the difficulty of sustaining it.
Even in his church, Christopher said, he has learned to value that democracy, leaving room for other people have their say to promote a healthier congregation.
Of Obama’s tenure, Christopher said: “It has meant the world to me.”
It didn’t matter whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. Either way, Carmetrus Palmer had hope.
So she organized.
She joined AmeriCorps, and, “ramen-noodle-a-day pay” be damned, she was going to contribute to Obama’s campaign.
“I got fully invested,” said Palmer, 38, and a program administrator and development director at the Tacoma Urban League.
Her $5 and $10 donations turned into an attachment — “Oh,” she thought when Obama became president, “maybe my vote does matter” — that now is symbolized with the $44 dollar bill bearing the 44th president’s likeness that’s stuck to her cubicle wall.
Palmer became active in grass-roots politics, taking her kids with her as she went doorbelling. It was her humble political beginning, the same as Obama’s.
When she had the chance to see Obama speak at the University of Washington in Seattle, she took her kids with her again.
She didn’t get there in time to get a seat at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, but she was at Husky Stadium when Obama jogged down the tunnel before thanking everybody who turned out to watch his speech.
“He joked that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” she remembered fondly. “It was totally fitting for it to happen that way.”
As a former politician, ex-Mayor of Tacoma Harold Moss recognizes the achievements Obama made for the Democratic Party.
But Moss, 87, says Obama will be judged less on what he got through Congress or what he raised awareness of than on how he handled himself in an adversarial political climate.
“Race-wise, he is an enormous figure and will be an enormous figure as time goes on,” said Moss, the city’s first black city councilman (1987-94) and mayor (1994-95). “Not because of, say, the Affordable Care Act or a lot of those things that really made a difference economically, but he will be judged on his character and what he brought to the country.”
Moss praised not only Obama, but also first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, saying their dignity brought awareness to the importance of family.
“Here we have the most beautiful family on Earth,” Moss said. “Just a wonderful mother, a gifted speaker, talented warm and friendly; and a president that if he used a bad word, we never heard it, who was as accommodating and as loving and as caring as any man can be.”
That’s a point of pride for an entire community, Moss said, but even if that community is not a “monolithic kind of folks.”
“When one black person does something exceptional, well, we all take exceptional pride in it,” Moss said. “When one black person does something heinous, we all feel the impact of that.”
For Lincoln High School seniors Mikayla Johnson, Elijah Henry and Jackline Knight, Obama is the only president they’ve really known.
Each regarded him with admiration for his policies, his personality or his personal accomplishments.
Johnson, 17, remembers watching TV on election night 2008 and seeing her white mother cry, feeling proud for her daughter.
“It awakened a yearning to learn more about politics,” Johnson said. “It’s really opened my eyes.”
Henry, freshly 18, saw something he said he hasn’t seen much of in Tacoma: a black man finding great success in politics.
“Politically, he broke a big barrier,” Henry said of Obama. “Traditionally, we see white males are presidents. If it weren’t for him, we would still be dealing with problems from eight years ago.”
Knight, 16, found a sense of hope while living in Kenya, the home of Obama’s father.
“I feel like I’ve lived here a long time because of him,” said Knight, a permanent resident who came to the United States with her parents a couple of years ago.
Staff photographer Dean J. Koepfler contributed to this report.