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Today, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald became the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian. To call this experience humbling would be an understatement. Thanks to Kehinde and Amy, generations of Americans \— and young people from all around the world \— will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. They\’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic. And I hope they\’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.
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This month, we tell the stories of a special set of heroes: The African American community organizers and active citizens who have, throughout our history, brought people together in pursuit of a more just, inclusive, and generous America. The pioneers who challenged us to dream bigger. C.T. Vivian is one of those heroes. A Baptist minister, C.T. Vivian was one of Dr. King\’s closest advisors. \“Martin taught us,\” he says, \“that it\’s in the action that we find out who we really are.\” And time and again, Reverend Vivian was among the first to be in the action. In 1947, he joined a sit-in to integrate an Illinois restaurant. He was one of the first Freedom Riders. In Selma, he stood on the courthouse steps to register blacks to vote -- and was beaten, bloodied and jailed for it. In standing up, he helped inspire a young woman to sit down and hold her ground. Her name was Rosa Parks. She said of him, \“Even after things had supposedly been taken care of and we had our rights, he was still out there, inspiring the next generation, including me.\” And me. Without the sacrifices and hard-won battles of folks like C.T. Vivian, I may have never had the honor to serve as your president. And that\’s the beauty of this nation: Each new generation stands on the successes of the last -- and reaches up to bend the arc of history in the direction of more freedom, more opportunity, more justice. As we continue to reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans this month, let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
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Over the course of the past year, Michelle and I have been working with an extraordinary team to dream up a campus for active citizenship on Chicago\’s South Side: The Obama Presidential Center. Today, we\’re taking a significant step forward and I wanted to share the very latest: Obama.org\/The-Center
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During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists. It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed most. From songs that got me moving to stories that inspired me, here's my 2017 list \— I hope you enjoy it and have a happy and healthy New Year. The best books I read in 2017: The Power by Naomi Alderman Grant by Ron Chernow Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein Exit West by Mohsin Hamid Five-Carat Soul by James McBride Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward *Bonus for hoops fans: Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano My favorite songs of 2017: Mi Gente by J Balvin & Willy William Havana by Camila Cabello (feat. Young Thug) Blessed by Daniel Caesar The Joke by Brandi Carlile First World Problems by Chance The Rapper (feat. Daniel Caesar) Rise Up by Andra Day Wild Thoughts by DJ Khaled (feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller) Family Feud by Jay-Z (feat. Beyonc\é) Humble by Kendrick Lamar La Dame et Ses Valises by Les Amazones d\’Afrique (feat. Nneka) Unforgettable by French Montana (feat. Swae Lee) The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National Chanel by Frank Ocean Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott Matter of Time by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings Little Bit by Mavis Staples Millionaire by Chris Stapleton Sign of the Times by Harry Styles Broken Clocks by SZA Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix) by U2 *Bonus: Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen (not out yet, but the blues version in his Broadway show is the best!)
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On behalf of the Obama family, Merry Christmas! We wish you joy and peace this holiday season.
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Wearing a Santa hat helps, too.
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I just got off a call to say thanks to folks who are working hard to help Americans around the country sign up for health care. But it's up to all of us to help to spread the word and tell people they can sign up through this Friday at HealthCare.gov or 1-800-318-2596. Every plan that you can shop for right now includes free preventive care, like checkups, mammograms, and contraceptive care. There are no more annual or lifetime limits on the essential care you receive. And insurers can't discriminate against you if you've got a preexisting condition. Plus, most people can find plans with monthly premiums under $75. Don't delay \— head over to HealthCare.gov and check out your options.
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I\’m about to join a town hall with young people from all over India who are charting the course for a better future. I hope you\’ll tune in.
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From the Obama family to yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving full of joy and gratitude.
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Yesterday, I dropped by a service project in Northeast D.C., where a group of veterans were fixing up a public housing project. Just think about that for a moment. On a day dedicated to honoring their sacrifice, these veterans chose to honor their fellow citizens. They chose to roll up their sleeves and ask, \“Now, what else can I do?\” Today is a day to honor those who have honored our country with its highest form of service. We owe our veterans our thanks. Our respect. Our freedom. Today, we humbly acknowledge that we can never truly serve our veterans in quite the same way that they served us. But we can try. We can practice kindness. We can volunteer. We can serve. We can respect one another. We can have each other\’s backs. We can ask, \“Now, what else can I do?\”
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Starting today, you can sign up for 2018 health coverage. Head on over to HealthCare.gov and find a plan that meets your needs and your budget. And spread the word so your friends and family can, too.
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Tonight, the ex-Presidents are getting together in Texas to support all our fellow Americans rebuilding from this year\’s hurricanes. Join us. Tune in and find out how you can help at OneAmericaAppeal.org.
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I feel lucky to spend time with young leaders like these. Keep up the good work, S\ão Paulo.
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When I left office, I told you all that the single most important thing I could do would be to help prepare the next generation of leaders to take their own crack at changing the world. The Obama Foundation Fellows program is looking to do just that -- train and support civic innovators who are solving problems in their communities in creative and powerful ways. Apply to join our inaugural class of twenty Fellows by Friday, October 6th: www.Obama.org\/Fellowship
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I dropped in on Michelle\’s talk at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women to deliver a message on our 25th wedding anniversary. Asking you to go out with me is the best decision I ever made. I love you, Michelle.
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Michelle and I want the Obama Foundation to inspire and empower people to change the world. Here's how we're getting started this fall - I hope you'll be a part of it.
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America\’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what\’s right. Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor \– and few made as big a difference to America. I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love. She was engaged to her partner, Thea, for forty years. After a wedding in Canada, they were married for less than two. But federal law didn\’t recognize a marriage like theirs as valid \– which meant that they were denied certain federal rights and benefits that other married couples enjoyed. And when Thea passed away, Edie spoke up \– not for special treatment, but for equal treatment \– so that other legally married same-sex couples could enjoy the same federal rights and benefits as anyone else. In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts. The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America \– a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice. And I called Edie that day to congratulate her. Two years later, to the day, we took another step forward on our journey as the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality. It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love. I thought about Edie that day. I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love \– and who, in the process, made us all more free. They deserve our gratitude. And so does Edie. Michelle and I offer our condolences to her wife, Judith, and to all who loved and looked up to Edie Windsor.
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Americans always answer the call. OneAmericaAppeal.org
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Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about how to fix our immigration system so that everybody plays by the rules. But that\’s not what the action that the White House took today is about. This is about young people who grew up in America \– kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they\’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver\’s license. Over the years, politicians of both parties have worked together to write legislation that would have told these young people \– our young people \– that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you\’ve been here a certain number of years, and if you\’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, then you\’ll get a chance to stay and earn your citizenship. And for years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill. That bill never came. And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm. Deportations of criminals went up. Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result. But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong \– because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating \– because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid\’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn\’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak? Let\’s be clear: the action taken today isn\’t required legally. It\’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn\’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid\’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won\’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone\’s taxes, or raise anybody\’s wages. It is precisely because this action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense, that business leaders, faith leaders, economists, and Americans of all political stripes called on the administration not to do what it did today. And now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it\’s up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future. I\’m heartened by those who\’ve suggested that they should. And I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel. Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we\’d want our own kids to be treated. It\’s about who we are as a people \– and who we want to be. What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals \– that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That\’s how America has traveled this far. That\’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.
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More ways to help Houston:
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Our politics are divided. They have been for a long time. And while I know that division makes it difficult to listen to Americans with whom we disagree, that\’s what we need to do today. I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what\’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did. We didn\’t fight for the Affordable Care Act for more than a year in the public square for any personal or political gain \– we fought for it because we knew it would save lives, prevent financial misery, and ultimately set this country we love on a better, healthier course. Nor did we fight for it alone. Thousands upon thousands of Americans, including Republicans, threw themselves into that collective effort, not for political reasons, but for intensely personal ones \– a sick child, a parent lost to cancer, the memory of medical bills that threatened to derail their dreams. And you made a difference. For the first time, more than ninety percent of Americans know the security of health insurance. Health care costs, while still rising, have been rising at the slowest pace in fifty years. Women can\’t be charged more for their insurance, young adults can stay on their parents\’ plan until they turn 26, contraceptive care and preventive care are now free. Paying more, or being denied insurance altogether due to a preexisting condition \– we made that a thing of the past. We did these things together. So many of you made that change possible. At the same time, I was careful to say again and again that while the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step forward for America, it was not perfect, nor could it be the end of our efforts \– and that if Republicans could put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I would gladly and publicly support it. That remains true. So I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there\’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it\’s to make people\’s lives better, not worse. But right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would do the opposite. It would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That\’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America\’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system. The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It\’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely. Simply put, if there\’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family \– this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation. I hope our Senators ask themselves \– what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child\’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings? To put the American people through that pain \– while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return \– that\’s tough to fathom. But it\’s what\’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need. That might take some time and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. But I believe that\’s what people want to see. I believe it would demonstrate the kind of leadership that appeals to Americans across party lines. And I believe that it\’s possible \– if you are willing to make a difference again. If you\’re willing to call your members of Congress. If you are willing to visit their offices. If you are willing to speak out, let them and the country know, in very real terms, what this means for you and your family. After all, this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It\’s about the character of our country \– who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that\’s always worth fighting for.
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Tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, President Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago. Don't miss it.
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\"Our goal wasn't just to make sure more people have coverage\—it was to make sure more people have better coverage.\" \—President Obama