The President of the United States, the most powerful man on the globe, left the climate summit in Paris where the future of the human race was being decided to jet home to Washington, D.C. to light the National Christmas Tree December 3. He was looking forward to meeting the park ranger who’d introduce him, a 94-year-old woman raised by her great-grandmother who was born into slavery. Ranger Betty Reid Soskin not only lived the Rosie the Riveter story of the WWII shipyards in California, but today she leads international tours through the park she helped create to save their history. A poster child for the National Park Service, she shatters stereotypes associated with aging by her vigor and vitality.
To meet the president, Ranger Soskin brought strong memories of her enslaved great-grandmother Leontine, who was close in her life until age 27 when she was already a young wife and mother working in the Richmond shipyards. With two of her granddaughters in the audience, she clutched a photograph of her great-grandmother. When the President embraced her he held her hand, pressed something into her palm, and gently closed her fingers over it. She looked down in wonder to find his Seal of the President of the United States.
The chains of slavery broke wide open for me in that moment in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse. “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!” sang through my head. To see an American with direct roots in slavery embrace the President of the United States on the most joyful stage in the land reveals that you cannot keep the human spirit down even by condemning it to the pit of hell.
I saw the resurrection of the African spirit and its reinstatement to its rightful place, in the procession of achievement among all other races. According to Ancestry.com, President Obama is also descended from an enslaved African, on his mother’s side. Many Americans have questioned President Obama’s American roots, but nobody can question Ranger Soskin’s. And they both wound up together on the biggest stage in the land as central players in our most joyous celebration.
What a wonderful Christmas blessing!
It relieves me of the constant subliminal pressure from those who beat the drums of racial superiority, exclusion and separation. Where else but America could a story such as this unfold? It illustrates that our American ideals “with liberty and justice for all” are working. Now I see the current upheavals in our society and the racial and other injustices that are being revealed as a wakeup call, for us to stand up for our democratic ideals and push them forward.
Man is not in charge of Earth’s future, though our actions affect how comfortable or uncomfortable it is for us to live here. President Obama bought us a second chance at the climate talks where world leaders agreed to cut pollution to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising the few degrees that will make our lives excruciating.
How amazing would it be if Americans used the example of the park ranger and the President in this time of reflection and renewal to wipe the record clean? We could begin anew in our country with one aim, one destiny – to love each other and respect the presence of God in our shared humanity.
God bless you! Many blessings now and always.
Audrey Peterman is an environmentalist and author living in Ft. Lauderdale. Read her story about the President and the Park Ranger in her blog on the Huffington Post.