Today I received a letter from the President. Yes, President Obama.
And no, this isn’t just some fundraiser form like the e-mails I get every other day from BarackObama.com. It’s the real deal… it’s on embossed White House vellum stationary with a real signature and a matching hand-written envelope to boot!
Of course, it’s not Barack’s handwriting on the envelope… they’re not even Barack’s words typed on the page. I realize this. I know some staffer wrote this for him and it’s a form letter that gets sent to thousands of people (it’s addressed “Dear Friend:”… ouch!), but still… it IS his signature. I know it.
Here’s the back story… in a moment of despair I wrote a pleading letter to newly elected President Obama in March of 2009. I just received the reply today, 10 months later. I know what you’re thinking… I’m thinking it too… but hey, let’s give the guy some slack. He’s been a bit busy.
Here is my letter in its entirety, followed by the reply from President Obama…
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
March 25, 2009
Dear President Obama,
I watched your interview on 60 minutes last Sunday night and was excited to hear that you read 10 letters each evening from everyday Americans living outside the Beltway – I am one of those Americans and hope that this letter will reach you.
I am writing from Oakland, California. As you are likely aware, our city suffered a tremendous loss this past weekend as 4 police officers were killed in the line of duty. Though the events seemed to shock our local populous as well as the national conscience, I have to say that, to me, it does not seem that shocking. Our city is plagued by crime, violence, drugs, failing schools (highschool dropout rates at 50%), high unemployment (14% citywide, but higher in some neighborhoods), and more. This is not to say there aren’t bright spots; I have lived in Oakland for over 10 years and the Bay Area in general for over 15. In so many ways this is one of the most wonderful places to live. Perched across the beautiful bay is the truly international city of San Francisco; we’ve got an incredibly broad range of industries putting people to work, including the technological force of Silicon Valley which literally shapes the future of the world; we’ve got incredible access to wilderness and a high ratio of green space and parks within our cities; we’re a bastion of diversity and tolerance with peoples of all colors and religions working and living together pretty harmoniously. Which is why it’s so terribly sad that Oakland is failing to meet its true potential. Events like those of the last weekend, or the daily crack cocaine sales outside my loft in West Oakland, are a constant reminder of the ways in which we all lose.
Why do these problems exist? I believe the core of the problem is that the people who commit these crimes have few other options. They lack the skills and education needed to access other opportunities.
My neighborhood is fairly diverse and is known for the infusion of artists over the last decade, snatching up cheap warehouses in borderline areas to save money and have creative spaces in which to work – welders and painters and photographers and furniture makers and more all live in West Oakland. But the predominant demographic is low-income black families; these are the folks who were here long before we artists came.
I have lived in my loft for 9 years now. There is a foreclosed property across the street from me that became a squatters den for every drug addict within a 2 mile radius – every fixture and shred of copper piping was ripped out of the house. Crack is ubiquitous, as is prostitution – of course, the two are usually linked. Crime is rampant. We’ve had three shootings (two fatal) within one block of my building within the last two years. There are numerous boarded up properties in any direction you walk, for as far as you want to walk, and you don’t feel safe while you’re walking there. I’m sure you’re hearing this from many different places across America, but I really do feel like this is ground zero.
My friend Greta, who works in education and taught in various East Bay schools for years, summed it up best. She said, “You take one look at McClymonds High School and you understand why your neighborhood is the way that it is.” It’s all about education, and I am with you Mr. President on your initiative to fix our public school system. If we can make it “cool” to learn and be smart and successful, I firmly believe that all of these problems will get better. I know that sounds overly simplistic, but I really do think it may be that simple. If people can get good jobs that they find interesting and engaging, if they can provide for their families, if they can feel positive about the contribution they are making in the world and be positive role models for their children, if they can feel proud, then there’s no need to sell drugs or sell your body or carry guns or steal. Those acts are born out of fear, and out of desperation.
I would like to ask two things of you Mr. President:
1) I would like you to bring green collar jobs, the kinds of which Van Jones speaks in his Green For All initiative, to the underskilled adults in Oakland. I see so many perfectly able bodied men and women sitting on their stoops day by day, just waiting for something to do. These people need jobs.
2) And I would like you to bring revolution to our school system here; perhaps the kind which Geoffrey Canada has undertaken with his Harlem Children’s Zone. The struggling parts of Oakland are not unlike Harlem; if it can work there, it can work here.
Lastly I would say that you should continue to reinforce the messages of personal responsibility and commitment to service. If we all do better taking care of ourselves, so that we can lend out a hand and take care of our neighbor too, the world will be a much happier place.
Thank you for your time.
(my full name)
And the reply…
THE WHITE HOUSE
January 11, 2010
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on education. I appreciate hearing from you. I am committed to providing the best possible education for our Nation’s students because our children deserve it and because, today more than ever, America’s prosperity rests on how well we educate them.
Across the country, we have many great schools and dedicated teachers. We should be proud of these successes, and eager to discover and support what makes them great. We must also realize that not all children get the education they deserve, and many schools need urgernt reform to better help our students reach their full potential.
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), my Administration has made a historic investment toward improving public education and providing greater access to a complete and competitive education for every child. This investment will make high-quality, early learning programs available to more young children. ARRA will also help strengthen the teaching profession by recognizing talented teachers who improve learning and by encouraging them to stay in the schools that need them most. We are committed to exploring innovative approaches that advance teaching and learning through high standards and expectations for all students, and developing meaningful assessments. These steps can ensure our graduates are prepared for success both in their higher education and careers.
A child’s education does not begin and end with a school bell, and responsibility must extend beyond a school’s walls. Our future success depends on a greater level of engagement between parents, communities, and schools on behalf of children. We all share the duty to educate our students, and if we hold them to the highest standards, they will meet them. Please join me online to read more at: www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/education.
Thank you again for writing to me about this important issue.
Does it leave you a little flat? Me too.
I guess it was a bit naive of me to write the President of the United States to ask him to bring huge solutions direct to local problems. Sort of like a seven year old asking the President to save his dog who’s sick with cancer. Oh well…