From the moment they walked onto the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park on November 4, 2008, as the new first family in waiting, the Obamas captivated the American imagination. Over the next eight years, President Barack Obama guided America’s economic recovery after the Great Recession. First lady Michelle Obama became an advocate for health and fitness. Precocious youngsters Malia and Sasha grew into accomplished young women before our eyes. The family also became — with two notable exceptions involving jeans and a tan suit — style icons for the nation.
But while on January 20, 2017, the Obama presidential era came to an end, they wasted no time in getting their professional lives back on track. On the day they left the White House, the Obamas announced the creation of The Obama Foundation. Housed in Chicago, the foundation’s mission is “to inspire and empower people to change their world.” The foundation plans to, among other things, provide resources for civic leaders across the nation. Additionally, the former president’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, his initiative to empower young men of color will be housed at the Foundation.
The parents are not the only ones building their résumés. Although Malia Obama graduated from high school in 2016, she decided to take a “gap year” before attending college. During this time, she interned at Miramax studios’ New York offices. Little sister Sasha is finishing high school at Sidwell Friends in Washington.
The senior Obamas continue to grow their relationship. In October, Barack and Michelle Obama celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Both Michelle and Barack have posted pictures this year reaffirming their love for one another.
The family has experienced adversity as well. Sadly, the Obama daughters were criticized by some after videos emerged that showed Malia and Sasha engaging in an activity known to teenage girls the world over — kissing teenage boys. In particular, Malia was targeted for smoking in one of the videos as well as dancing in public in another video. However, many Americans, including Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump, defended Malia’s right to be a young adult on her own terms.
As if to prove just how ordinary life is for the Obamas now, Barack Obama was summoned to appear for jury duty in Cook County earlier this year. While the summons was common, the reaction was not, as many of the others chosen to appear that day were overjoyed at the chance to meet the former president or get his autograph.
However, not everything is normal for the Obamas. Very few Americans have their own holidays, but Barack Obama does. The state of Illinois has created Barack Obama Day. The day will be observed in the state every August 4 (the president’s birthday), beginning next year.
While the Obamas may be like a normal family in many ways, their political influence is beyond that of the average citizen. The former president wasted very little time weighing in on politics. In late January, less than a month into his replacement’s presidency, Obama spoke out forcefully against the new administration’s immigration policies. He also urged Republicans to preserve the Affordable Care Act, his signature achievement. He has also spent his time campaigning for Democratic candidates in New Jersey, Virginia, and Alabama. Significantly, he has made the fight to expand voting rights a priority in his post-presidency work. Obama is leading efforts to end the gerrymandering that limits the voting power of nonwhite communities.
Barack Obama continues to console and support the nation in times of crisis. He teamed with other former presidents to raise money for those affected by this summer’s hurricanes. After the November mass shooting in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, a church that claimed 26 lives, he spoke out against gun violence and urged Congress to pursue gun control. And perhaps most significantly, after the August neo-Confederate “Unite the Right” rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed when a neo-Nazi sympathizer drove into a crowd, Obama tweeted a message of comfort that quickly became the most shared tweet in Twitter’s history.
Michelle Obama has also been active politically. Although she has no plans to run for office, the former first lady is not shy about using her platform to speak out. She criticized women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton by stating that those women “voted against their own voices.” She criticized the new administration for rolling back reforms to school nutrition programs that she worked to implement during her “Let’s Move” initiative. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Michelle Obama encouraged women to speak out and implored men to talk to one another to “straighten each other out,” if necessary. And, without naming names, she admonished a certain presidential Twitter user by saying the following: “It is never a good thing to say the first thing that comes to your mind. … You need to edit and spell-check.”
Apparently, politics runs in the family. Early in the year, daughter Malia took part in the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
It seems that although the White House is a distant memory, the Obamas are not going to shy away from being actively involved in American politics. While the presidency may have ended, a new era and type of influence for the Obamas is just beginning.