“I’ll keep spending every single day in this office and beyond working to make your life better, and to create a brighter future for your boys and for all of our children. That’s a promise.” —President Obama
When President Obama first took office, he asked his staff to send him 10 letters a day. Ten letters that reflect Americans from every corner of the country with every background — the stories, cares, and concerns of the citizens of this country.
He’s continued that practice every day since, reading, responding, and visiting the homes and hometowns of letter writers who have inspired him and his policies. And on this last day of Black History Month and the second anniversary of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the President is sharing his response to Gretchen Stewart from Florida.
In the letter below, Gretchen, a public school teacher and mother of two, articulates her struggle—one that resonates with many people across the country.
Dear President Obama,
Everyday, I get about 4–5 hours of sleep. My day starts at 4:45 am when I wake up to read my Bible for a few moments. Then, I make lunch for my 9 year old with Autism. I set the clothes out for my other 9 year old with Down Syndrome. As Black boys in America with special needs, the outcomes say they have a slim to none chance to graduate high school, a good chance of being imprisoned, and a great chance of having a very poor, perhaps homeless, adult quality of life. I don’t focus on it, but it remains the fact for most.
After I finish packing lunches, I sneak into our room (we share a 10x11 room in my grandmothers house) and grab my clothes. I pull my tired little guy from a bed on the floor and dress him in his sleep. I help him to the car, we back out at 5:55 am. I then drive 1 hour to drop him off at a Charter school that serves kids with Autism. I moved to Tampa, Florida for this school. There are so few quality choices for parents with kids with Autism that are the working poor. I am an American public school teacher. I teach 5th grade at a high poverty, nearly all Black, elementary school in Tampa. I work 12–14 hour days and bring work home. My income last week was $1,330.00 for 2 weeks. I hold 2 MAs and have been an award winning urban public education for 17 years. I cannot afford an apartment, let alone a house. I live check to check. People who sell guns make more money.
Teachers in the most challenging schools have very little resources. Last month I had a choice to make, overdraft my bank account or buy supplies for my students. I chose my students, and we ate less at home.
You said we are the most powerful nation in the world. That being true, the state of Education for MOST Americans is unacceptable. Loosing kids to gun violence is horrific, and so is allowing millions of American kids to go from our schools to our prisons. The stratification is growing, rapidly.
We need change for our teachers. Young people don’t what to be teachers out of college. They know teachers are paid terribly, they know it’s a very hard and sometimes even dangerous career. They are turned off in droves to what should be the highest held profession in our nation.
I’d vote you in again if I could. It’s been an honor to be an American while you have been in office. Before you go, please do all you can to improve the state of affairs for American teachers.
I was very moved by your letter. I am who I am today only because I was raised by a strong mother who worked hard and sacrificed to make sure I got a good education. So the first thing I’d say is that your boys are very fortunate to have you.
The concerns you shared are ones I read in a lot of letters, and hear from a lot of folks I meet across the country. Here’s what I want you to know. Every single thing I do as President is aimed at making sure every child in America has the same opportunities this country gave me. A good education. Caring mentors who kept me on the straight and narrow. Safe places to learn and grow. I couldn’t agree more with you that we need to train and support more excellent teachers like you, and pay them what they truly deserve. We’ve got to do more to keep our kids safe from gun violence. We’ve got to do more to close the school-to-prison pipeline. We know that boys and young men of color face some of the toughest odds. That’s why I created the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to make sure that all of our children, no matter their background, have the chance to achieve their dreams.
These aren’t challenges we’ll solve overnight. But over the past seven years, we’ve made progress on creating jobs, making sure more Americans have health insurance, getting graduation rates up, and making sure underprivileged schools have better resources like high-speed internet. High school dropout rates are down, and more young people of color are going to college. We’ve taken action to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer — and I’ve repeatedly called on Congress to do more. And there’s real hope that we can get bipartisan criminal justice reform done this year.
Change takes time. But change is possible. I know how hard it is for so many Americans like you. But Americans like you also fill me with hope. Every day, you give your all to your children, and to your students — never giving up. You’re changing lives and making a difference in your community. That’s how this country has always moved forward. And I’ll keep spending every single day in this office and beyond working to make your life better, and to create a brighter future for your boys and for all of our children. That’s a promise.