For many Americans, the chance to see a sitting U.S. president in person is a unique and memorable event. But to actually meet the president and share your hopes and passions with him is something the average citizen very rarely experiences. On August 29, Blue Ridge Commons Resident Services Coordinator Tracey Howard-Gough and Blue Ridge Commons resident Fatima Yahya defied the odds when they met and spoke with President Barack Obama after a speech he gave to a crowd of 7,500 people in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The women were able to attend the event when a contact with the local Obama office offered Tracey four extra tickets just one day before the gathering. Tracey immediately invited her twenty-year-old daughter (who had gone with her mother to Obama’s D.C. inauguration four years prior) and CHP AmeriCorps member Sharon Lawler. And when Fatima, a Sudanese refugee who had recently become an American citizen, expressed her desire to hear her new president speak,Tracey quickly offered her a ticket as well.
Eager with excitement and anticipation, the four set out for the venue the following day well ahead of schedule, only to be amazed and delighted when they found themselves first in line and ultimately on the front row of the arena. And, remarkably,they were soon noticed by Obama himself.
According to Tracey, the President was speaking at one point about the new laws for immigrant families when she “called out for his attention, shouting, ‘like our families at Blue Ridge Commons!’” He pointed directly at Tracey and said “‘Yes, your families' stories!’” Tracey goes on to say that after Obama’s speech was over, he came over to shake Fatima’s hand and ask about her journey of citizenship. Fatima spoke to him about coming to Charlottesville from Africa and being able to find affordable housing for her family at Blue Ridge Commons. Tracey then had the opportunity to explain the resident diversity at Blue Ridge Commons, her job as Resident Services Coordinator, and Resident Services’ role in assisting residents with citizenship, employment, English literacy,education, and the Section 8 voucher program. “And, at the end of our conversation, Obama promised that he would not forget about Blue Ridge Commons,” Tracey recounts. Powerful words indeed from our nation’s forty-fourth president.
Fatima remarks, “I am so thankful for this experience and my country.” Adds Tracey, “I will never forget that day. It meant so much for me to be able to share with the President what I do, what I care about, and what I think is important for our country. And the fact that he seemed to listen is just amazing.”