As we count down to the new year, President Obama sent a message to the Obama Foundation email list on 2017 and his belief that each of us can make a difference. If you’d like to get updates like this and the latest news from the Obama Foundation, you can sign up for our email list here.
I've always liked counting down to the new year. We get to reflect on what we've been through, and prepare for what's ahead. There's something inherently optimistic about that.
I know optimism isn't always fashionable. Certainly not when we're fed a steady stream of cynicism on television and through social media. We face some extraordinary challenges, but consider the long view. If you think about it, by almost every measure, America and the world are better than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago.
I was born at a time when women and people of color were systematically, routinely excluded from huge portions of American life. Today, women and minorities are rising up in the ranks of business, politics, and everywhere else. That's just one of the significant shifts we've seen. And when you measure it against the scope of human history -- it happened in an instant.
Around the world, we live in a time when fewer people are dying young and more people are living not only longer, but better. More girls are in school. More adults can read. More children get the vaccines they need.
These are good things. And none of them are lucky accidents. They happened because countless people, toiling for many years, fought to make this progress.
More than anything, that's what's needed now - the engagement of everyone who wants to see a better future for our children. The kind of collective action that has always driven human progress. And even in the face of cynicism and division, it's those kinds of stories from 2017 that I'll remember.
When Kat Creech, a wedding planner in Houston, Texas, saw a rapidly strengthening hurricane approaching her state, she and a couple whose Labor Day wedding she was planning decided to postpone. At Kat's suggestion, that couple instead invited their wedding party, family, and friends to join together and volunteer to support those affected by the flood. Inspired, Kat kept going. She started a Facebook group to help connect and coordinate with fellow residents who wanted to volunteer. That became Recovery Houston, hundreds of volunteers strong. They helped clear more than 120 homes in a single week. Asked what she hopes others will learn from her story, Kat said, "You can move mountains and really make a difference in someone's life."
That's a story from 2017.
In the wake of this summer's violence in Virginia, Chris Long, a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, gave his first six paychecks of the season to fund scholarships at the high school he attended in his hometown of Charlottesville. But, like Kat in Texas, he wanted to do more. He decided to give away the rest of his paychecks for the season as well. An entire season's salary. "Be that contagious light that spreads energy to other people," Chris told a group of high school students this year. "Be contagious in your energy."
That's something else that happened in 2017.
At just five years old, Jahkil Jackson had witnessed the struggles of Chicago's homeless families when his aunt took him to Lower Wacker Drive to hand out food to those camped there. He found himself restless, wanting to do more. With a spark of inspiration and the help of his family, Jahkil created "Blessing Bags" -- kits full of socks, toiletries and snacks that he could offer to those in need. Now, as a 10 year old, through his organization Project I Am, Jahkil has enlisted the help of his school and community to pursue his goal of handing out 5,000 Blessing Bags, all because he wanted a simple way to help his neighbors. Just yesterday, with the support of his friends, Jahkil reached his goal.
A 2017 story.
Kat, Chris, and Jahkil were all living in the same country, during the same time, as you and me. They chose not to be daunted by challenges, but to stand up and make their world better.
I saw that spirit all across America in people who chose to get involved, get engaged, and stand up not only to defend their rights, but more importantly, the rights of others. People who rejected cynicism and pessimism and pushed forward with a relentless, infectious optimism. Not a blind optimism that ignores the scale and scope of our challenges, but rather a hard-earned optimism rooted in the stories of real progress.
It's a belief that each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try.
You only need one person speaking with conviction, speaking with courage, and yes, with optimism, and you're going to change some minds.
Those folks won't just be convinced -- they'll be motivated to go out and spread the message that swayed them. They'll be its best ambassadors.
And on it goes, one conversation at a time, until you've got yourself a movement. A movement that can change the world.
I'll believe that as long as I live. So go keep changing the world in 2018.