A humble souvenir

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The administration of President Barack Obama is coming to a close. History was made on several big counts with his election, on two separate occasions. The most recent election, during which his successor was chosen, will result in its own history. It is not time, really, to judge either. One administration has yet to begin. History, like a fine recipe, requires the juices to meld and the seasonings to settle before true judgement can be pronounced.

Certainly in the case of President Obama, there will be several interpretations. There are many, many people in these parts who for reasons understandable as well as ignoble, have been waiting for the day he would leave with impatience. Their time is finally coming.

There are others who hold a different thought, and Arlanda Williams is one of them.

A history-maker herself, Arlanda is serving her last allowable successive term on the Terrebonne Parish Council. While serving the communities she represents, and the parish as a whole, she has performed other tasks which are great accomplishments. Some of them are directly tied to this administration, to the Obama years.

Arlanda has served as a member of the FCC Advisory board for Intergovernmental Affairs, and on the FEMA Mitigation Group for Local Government. In those capacities she has been to the White House several times, and spoken with the president. He remembers her, certainly, having given her the nickname “Gulf Coast” in regard to her advocacy for the region in FEMA matters.

There is, of course, a particularly poignant tone to the relationship between the lady from Deweyville and the Obama administration. The issue of race – in particular Obama’s place in history as the first black President of the United States – is not an overwhelming or over-riding one to her. But it matters because, as a black woman, she has made history in her own way here in Terrebonne Parish.

And so there Arlanda was last Wednesday, at the final Christmas party to be hosted by President and Mrs. Obama.

She watched and wept as the Obamas – by all accounts a dashing and classy couple – made their last walk down the stairs for such a party.

“I was blessed to be a part of the president’s administration,” she recalled. “There was the realization of this being my one last time to see him and Michele Obama as president and first lady of the United States of America. I knew it was the last time and I was so thankful, and I though how even in adversity he had shown class. I thought about how as an elected official I owe it to his legacy to always go high when others go low, and that’s when the tears began to fall. He had and she had accomplished a dream most of us never will have. It was a dream accomplished, not a dream deferred. As I watched him walk I knew that his walk was for Medgar Evers and for Emmett Till. It was for Rosa Parks and for Martin Luther King and so many others”

Arlanda has been busy with a lot of things in addition to government. Back here in Louisiana she had opened a restaurant, Big Meats Soul Food on West Main Street in Gray, and the project has had some stunning success. And she does not forget where she started from.

“There I was a single parent who did not allow my situation to determine my destination,” Arlanda said, and then confessed to having returned with a most humble, but practical and poignant, souvenir. A few plain paper napkins embossed with the seal of the President of the United States made the trip back to Terrebonne.

“I didn’t throw them in the garbage, I put them in my purse,” she said. And one of those napkins will indeed be framed, and it will hang in the restaurant for all to see. None of us are perfect and none of this live a perfect life. When you can be a part of history you can say that even through my imperfection I had a moment of perfection.” •