Ava DuVernay Talks to Barack Obama about A PROMISED LAND

Ava DuVernay Talks to Barack Obama about A PROMISED LAND

Our 44th president, Barack Obama, recently spoke with Ava DuVernay about the publication of his book A PROMISED LAND. The first of two volumes.

This event was part of the Virtual Community Book Club sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Ava DuVernay grew up in Long Beach, CA. Her production of the film A Wrinkle in Time highlighted her being the first Black woman to direct a live-action film. She created the Netflix drama series WHEN THEY SEE US, based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, when five young black men were accused of rape. The series was nominated for an Emmy and won the Critics’ Choice TV award for best series.

When the discussion began, DuVernay mentioned that she had always appreciated Barack Obama using his honest response I don’t know, when he didn’t have a definitive answer to a question from a news person or anyone interviewing him. This was a great start to their discussion.

DuVernay: What is the most important best step in overcoming our current problems? (note I have shortened some of Obama’s answers, but have not changed his message.)

Obama: In the book, I was tracing the deep-rooted divisions in our society, which came to the fore and maybe were even exacerbated by my election: the fault line of race and the fault line around equal opportunity and class. To me, as a writer and a human, you don’t completely overcome our differences. We are a complicated democracy, there are always going to be clashes of idea, notions of what comprises the good life and how we should organize ourselves in government.

But we can work to see each other’s humanity, understand that we are all deserving of dignity and respect. We can try to resolve those differences.

When I ran in Iowa, there were few Black people, but still we were able to bring together young Black followers, Jews, Asians and whites. We listened to them, eager to know what they needed. We formed bonds and trust in Iowa. It is all part of listening, understanding others.

DuVernay: Tell us about your loss when your first ran for a position in Illinois.

Obama: I can still feel the disappointment, and I asked myself: Why am I doing this? I might have to put aside this dream for something else. A valuable lesson is what you have control over, WHAT YOU DO. But of course, there are lots of variables. I try to be tough on myself if I’ve been lazy or inconsiderate. Things that I can control. And you learn. The sun still comes up. Then I ran for US Senate and it helped when I told myself not to be concerned if I didn’t win. The cause is larger than my success.

DuVernay: Any thoughts on marriage, leadership?

Obama: (laughs) Clean up after yourself. Leadership. How do we learn? Challenge your own assumptions. Understand what your mission is. Reflect on what this is about. Because your decisions are about what your first principles are.

DuVernay: When you were president, how did you deal with difficult problems on your desk:

  1. Know your first principles. 
  2. Have people smarter than you working for you. Remember that you don’t have to be seen as the most important person. 
  3. Your junior staff know a great deal; you are the facilitator. TAKE YOUR EGO OUT OF IT.
  4. And yes, be accountable. Get rid of people who don’t follow those rules, who take ideas of others as their own. There are those who often do that to women.

What would you like to be remembered for?  

Obama: The Paris Climate Accord. To fight Climate change. (then he offered some opinions on this process) Getting elected. Is this about doing what I think is best and long term for the country? Is my goal to get activists off my back or try to solve problems? KNOW YOU FIRST PRINCIPLES. You are going to make decisions that are sub-optimal. Nothing arrives on your desk with the perfect answer.

Then later, a young woman named Grace, calls in, asks Obama specifics about the Paris Accords. 

Obama: Legacy in the context of the presidency–its hard to get distance or perspective. How will this all play out? It might take 20 years. The Paris Accords. You had to take specific actions to reduce Greenhouse gases. It was a big lift, a big achievement. We got China to partner. Then India, even though they stressed that they didn’t cause the problem of greenhouse gases. But we were able to set up the structure. Then my successor pulls out. We are the one county…but it didn’t fall apart. Cities and states continued to adhere to the goals. Car companies followed the rules.

DuVernay: What is something else you would like to be remembered for? 

Obama: It’s hard to gauge. I modeled our leadership that whatever mistakes we made, we showed it was possible for someone elected president to do so without scandal and with a message of inclusion–a government that operates with integrity. Because so many of our problems occur when we don’t have trust in the people in power.

Think about what happened on January 6th, the riots that threatened Congress. We have gone outside the process entirely of whoever gets the most votes. If we set aside those norms, that my tribe will do whatever it takes to overcome the norms, then we will have a hard time coming together, a hard time learning how to listen to each other’s stories.

THANKs to Ava DuVernay and President Obama 

My Comment: I do want to read A PROMISED LAND. I applaud DuVernay for her questions and President Obama for his answers. They give us a look into the book’s content. And President Obama is already working on a second book, continuing this important discussion of his years as POTUS. 

FINAL NOTE: In this first book, he talks about Pastor Moss, an older Black pastor who encouraged Obama when people were saying he couldn’t win. He was being told that he should drop out. The cause belonged to the Clintons. It was likely someone would shoot him. But Pastor Moss lined it up this way: the beginning struggle for Black people in America was the Moses stage. Obama was now leading the Joshua stage. He was bringing all of us closer to A PROMISED LAND. 


Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

We meet many people during our lives. There is often the iconic story of the teacher, doctor, employer who teaches, employs and cares for a young man or woman who goes on to become known in the world: the scientist who creates the polio vaccine; the political activist who becomes a state senator and then president of the United States; the gardener who loves plants and then becomes known for his gardening advice. The writer who wins the Pulitzer.

Every one of you has someone you worked with, met or taught—someone who has gone on to do great things. Maybe that person is you!

Today I’m sharing some of the amazing people I have met who still inspire me to this day.


Born, raised, and completing my education in Chicago—there are hundreds of people during that time in my life who had great influence on me, who loved and encouraged me. Certainly, every member of my loving family. 


My biology teacher at Mundelein College saw something in me, called me into her office to underline that I should NOT major in English, become a teacher. I should immediately switch to the sciences, go into medicine. I didn’t listen.

But after teaching high school English at BLOOM TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL (I loved my students) and having my children, I became fascinated with medicine and followed her advice, became a nurse. I worked in the maternity unit at MERCY HOSPITAL in Chicago, assisting pregnant women of all ages and backgrounds. Like teaching, this position opened my vision of life, stressed the importance of understanding all persons in our society.


Then a few years later my husband accepted employment in Des Moines, Iowa—another adventure. Des Moines is the state capital, and because of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, it is always the center of political activity. My husband and I couldn’t help but become more involved in politics. When HILLARY CLINTON ran, we were sitting in the Drake Dinner at 5:00 in the morning, watching her prepare for interviews on all major stations. We were friends with DR. ANDY McGUIRE, who ran for governor of Iowa, who has been head of the Iowa Democratic party and will always have political blood running in her veins. Through Andy, we met Hillary that morning, and I asked her how she did it all. She teared up. And for those reading who remember a similar episode, this was way before New Hampshire.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA won the caucuses and I was able to shake his hand during a meet and greet in Des Moines. That’s a huge memory for me. But that event was also fortuitous, as the woman standing next to me was an RN at the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. I had recently lost the amazing work I had done for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines—(think Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Country Home and many other amazing magazines), because the Meredith Books group had shut down. (Thanks to Terri Fredrickson who guided me through the years I proofread for her.) So I interviewed at the health department and was hired JUST AT THE TIME, — H1N1 was surging.

But because of my work at MEREDITH BOOKS, I had met JAMES WAGENVROOD, a writer from New York City, who became my mentor and dear friend. We actually wrote a book together that you would not think would be in my wheelhouse, MIANI INK, MARKED FOR GREATNESS. 

I also met and toured the garden of ELVIN McDONALD, gardener, writer, and lovely person. You might be familiar with his: A GARDEN MAKES A HOUSE A HOME. 


The Des Moines Library (newly built in the re-emerging city center with a roof that originally was covered in grass, a salute to the green movement) hosted authors and there I met ELIZABETH BERG. She shook my hand and said I needed to get my novels out of the drawers where they were sitting. I’m still working on that project. She was charming, of course.  


And speaking of writing, Iowa is the home of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, famous for its creative writing program: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An easy drive down Route 80 and you’re there!

So get jealous now: I and twenty other writers spent a weekend with Pulitzer Prize winning ELIZABETH STROUT, known for her novels OLIVE KITTERIDGE, OLIVE AGAIN, AMY And ISABELLE, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON (and more). I’ve read ALL her work and encourage you to do so.

There were more wonderful teachers at Iowa: my friend and helpmate SUSAN CHEHAK who helped and encouraged me to publish my collection of short stories: A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE.


Through Andy McGuire we met many people in Democratic politics: Governor Vilsack, former Vice President Mondale, Governor of Vermont Howard Dean—but the most memorable was meeting NANCY PELOSI.     

We were in Andy’s inviting house for a fundraiser for a House Representative. I was sitting in the back of the room. I have often found myself in the back of rooms, but when someone is speaking, I go back to my grade-school days—I look right at the speaker, focus on what she or he is saying. When Nancy finished, she became surrounded by people. My husband and I got up quietly and walked into the dining room. I was sure I had seen some chocolate cupcakes along with other goodies set out on Andy’s dining room table.

But then someone was tapping me on the back. I turned. It was Nancy Pelosi. She said, “I came over to meet you.”

Okay! Why? I guess Andy had suggested that she do so. As we chatted, John asked her, as only John would, “What is the most important thing in your life going on right now?” He was waiting for a political response, but Nancy answered: “My grandchildren.” We loved that.

The bottom line in sharing all of this with you is that I have been blessed. The people I have met in person and the people I continue to meet online and now in my new but old home of Chicago, are all important to me in so many ways. So thank you….AND, ANYONE READING THIS–YOU ARE ALL AMAZING, Beth 

Photo Credit   Citizenship Creations Stock.

THE RIGHT TO VOTE: David Letterman Talks to POTUS 44

THE RIGHT TO VOTE: David Letterman Talks to POTUS 44

“Facebook and Amazon Go are eliminating our human interactions. Why talk to friends and family when you can like their pictures? Why chat with the grocery store clerk when you can scan your phone while she is checking you through? Technological progress is amazing, but we need to stay in touch with our humanity, with the people around us.”

YES! I so agree with Eugene Gu MD who posted most of this on Twitter.

And yes I go to Twitter almost daily, but I also communicate with many people online BY WRITING to them. By calling them. And I feel very strongly that town centers, shopping malls, community centers and movie theaters are vital parts of our lives. Even if you can afford a home theatre, people need other people. Interaction with someone NEW keeps our social skills alive. And we need social skills to have fulfilling lives.

But WHY, we might ask. Well, let’s go deeper.

  • Why would we want to support people in need if we didn’t really know anything about them, didn’t understand them, had never met them and thus eventually might not give a damn about them.
  • Why live in a democracy when we don’t really care about the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE?
  • Why believe in the power of the vote if we allow political operatives to prevent people from voting?
  • Why salute the flag if we don’t support what it stands for: THE BILL OF RIGHTS; THE CONSTITUTION and THE SUPREME COURT RULINGS that help us advance government to provide for all its people. (a ruling mentioned below has failed to do that.)


Two men who left their long-held employment, Letterman and Obama, recently chatted about their new goals and how to adapt with major life changes. And though they teased each other, Obama reminding Dave that he didn’t volunteer to leave his job, Dave getting Obama to share his “Dad Moves” when dancing with daughter Sasha and taking his older daughter Malia to college–Obama admitted, he was only assigned assembling a lamp.

But the heavy focus of their “chat” was on Letterman’s visit with Rep. to the U.S. House John Lewis and a filmed walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Letterman honored Lewis and his fight for civil rights and voting rights. Lewis’ dedication to these causes began when he became a member of the original 13 Freedom Riders in 1960. Then in 1963 he became head of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee which eventually led him to take a prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery March to register black voters. On March 7th, 1965 which became known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis was at the head of the line leading more than 600 people across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. When they reached the other side and stopped to pray, police set off tear gas and then mounted troopers began to beat the marchers with night sticks. Lewis had his skull fractured and bears the scars of the incident to this day.

Letterman and Obama talked about how the change in the Voting Rights Act in 2013 has harmed the ability for many Americans to vote. Something that is a RIGHT of all Americans now allows states to present problems to certain populations by closing voting stations, arranging times that make it hard for working people, and insisting on certain forms of ID. “There’s a narrow window of time to vote some Tuesday and it’s snowing and you work or have kids who are sick. So people can’t vote.”

THE LESSON OF SELMA: we can awaken the people; we have the power to change and make it easer for all to vote. Letterman quoted John Lewis who provided a profound reminder of the preciousness of the vote:

  • 1st white men with property could vote;
  •  then white men without property could vote;
  • eventually women could vote. But the vestiges that only SOME are worthy to have a voice in our government is still with us.

Obama talked briefly about his foundation on the southside of Chicago where his presidential library will be built, but more importantly where he hopes to create a HUB to train young people to understand that in order to create change you need to stay involved.

It’s like Dr. Eugene Gu said in his tweet: “Technological progress is amazing, but we need to stay in touch with our humanity, with the people around us.”


Thanks to: Voting Booth 2008  Candace Lovely

That giant sucking sound…

That giant sucking sound...

In the middle of election night, after I had stayed by the television to taste the bitterness of the end, I awoke with these words in my head, “that giant sucking sound.” And I couldn’t identify them for a long time. But lying there I finally did–it’s a line parents in Iowa, where I once lived, would say during spring break, the line referring to most folks leaving the state to go somewhere else. “Oh we all heard that giant sucking sound,” someone would say referring to the lines at the airport. But it really comes from, you guessed it, a political event. “The “giant sucking sound” was United States presidential candidate Ross Perot’s phrase for what he believed would be the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he opposed.” Bill Clinton won that election. Funny how the mind works!!

Well maybe my mind was going that far back, and then connecting to the election in the dead of night–only this time Hillary Clinton lost. This time folks had voted for a man who just might take us on a ride we could not have imagined–one of fear and hate, one of exclusion and denial of the rule of law. We will see. I am told to take heart from a man whom I have honored for eight years and always will. He is my President, he is POTUS to me and always will be. But he is saying take heart, because he must, even though his heart is deeply hurt and he has to work with a man who worked to delegitimize his presidency.

And then Wednesday, it was all about Hillary Clinton and how I had been here before with her, when ironically, she lost the primaries to President Obama in June of 2008, and gave her first “glass ceiling speech.” She had to give another one. WHAT A WOMAN. I am fiercely proud of her and everything she stands for. I would vote for her again should she choose to run for something. But she’s done. Yet, Hillary will always help this country in some way. And if the President-Elect had any guts, he would appointment her to a position, or at least ask her. But he won’t. He’s done too.

Today, I watched the brief look into the meeting that Mr. Trump had with the President. He was calm, though he looked nervous. I guess you could say he was on his best behavior. After everything I have seen of this man and how he conducted his rallies and what he said about his opponent and MY PRESIDENT, it will take me a very long time, if ever, for me to say positive things about him. As a writer, I know–words count and they don’t blow away because you are now smiling a lot.

But there is someone else who needs to examine their American soul in this post-election world. THOSE WHO DID NOT VOTE. How hard is it to take a half-day, if necessary, and vote–once every FOUR YEARS–for the person who can have a profound affect on your life? HOW HARD IS IT to try to get an absentee ballot? If fear kept you away from the polls because of the things Trump said, I get that–he threatened the people of Philadelphia–“those areas” and we knew what he meant. But if it was just laziness or an inability to decide whom to vote for–you have no idea the privilege you have given up. To live in a country where what we saw today–POTUS meeting with the one who won the election, and beginning the HAND-OVER process–that’s our freedom, our democracy, the American way. No coup, no guns, no deaths.

Maybe the lesson from this election will hold over for the next—-VOTE and don’t believe the polling. Don’t let some numbers convince you that your vote won’t count. YOUR VOTE ALWAYS COUNTS. Otherwise you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and hear “that giant sucking sound” your candidate losing, your ability to exercise one of the most valuable gifts on the planet going away, utilized by someone else who did bother to vote.

Photo Credit TIME