Probably the most enduring (and endearing) image from U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada last week is the one of him stepping off Air Force One to greet and be greeted by our Governor General, Michaëlle Jean.
There he was, his broad, infectious trademark smile wider than usual (we didn’t think that was possible) as he met for the first time our own head of state and she, as beautiful as ever, the one to first welcome him to our country.
It was an instant connection and the chemistry between these two, even on a cold and blustery Ottawa morning, was palpable – even to us watching on our television screens.
As they walked the red carpet towards the airport lounge where they would chat for some 30 minutes (20 minutes longer than was planned), the historic significance of the occasion could not have escaped even the most cynical – a Black man, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of its Armed Forces being welcomed to Canada by a Black woman, the Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces.
And, to top it all off, this all took place during our celebration of Black History Month. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The ease with which they connected was evident as they strode together chatting. Jean, at one point, laughing, threw her head back and patted Obama on the shoulder. We wondered what made her laugh out so heartily at that particular moment. We have since learned that in response to her telling him how much he was loved in Canada, he said that he was glad since, if things didn’t work out for him back home, he could move here.
We could only dream.
If there was anytime when the race and colour of our Governor General was particularly important to us, this would have been it. It must have made us look extremely amazing in the eyes of the world. And, for that, we should thank former Prime Minister Paul Martin who appointed her. It was a controversial appointment at the time. There were many who felt that she was the wrong person for that position. There most likely still are some who feel that way. However, now, with Obama in the White House and she in Rideau Hall, the stars seem to have been properly aligned for Canada.
The friendship – and it does seem to be a very genuine friendship – struck by these two leaders can only help this country in the weeks, months and years to come. He has invited her to visit him in Washington. She will meet his wonderful family. Her daughter, Marie-Éden, will meet and interact with his two daughters, Malia and Sasha. They will develop a bond that we have not seen since the friendship between the Reagans and the Mulroneys.
There are some who have expressed concern that Obama invited Jean to Washington and not Harper. That invitation was personal. Harper will meet with Obama on several occasions in the future – at conferences of world leaders and maybe even during an official visit to the U.S. Jean, as Governor General, will not have similar opportunities, unless (until) he visits Canada again.
Barack Obama has brought a new sense of purpose, possibilities and openness to politics and to leadership. We can only hope that some of it rubs off on our political leaders.
In the U.S., something already seems to have rubbed off on the Republican Party. Take, for example, the election last month of former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Michael S. Steele, an African-American, as chairman of their party or the fuss being made over Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, whose father emigrated to the U.S. from India.
When Obama said that change was coming, he wasn’t kidding!
Speaking of change, we would like to take a moment here to congratulate Dr. Chris Spence on his appointment this week as Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board. Spence, who was born in England to Jamaican parents, is a great choice and brings to the job an excellent resume. We laud the Board for its bold vision.
We also note that he is a strong supporter of the new Africentric School, as are we. So, we are already off to a very good start.