Dear President Obama,

I have sat down to write this letter dozens of times and always end up a bit tongue-tied. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain myself. Nine years ago I watched the image on a sonogram and heard the words from my doctor: “It’s a boy.” In that moment, my first emotion was fear. How was I going to raise a man? It seemed daunting, but perhaps nervousness is not uncommon for mothers of sons to experience. I also felt extremely aware that as a Caucasian woman having a son with a man of African American descent, my son would undoubtedly face issues in his life I would never fully understand … deep breaths …

Truth be told, I was unprepared for the powerful love I felt when I held him for the first time. He was perfection, the way all newborns are. He was mine and any hesitation or fear about mothering this little tiny man was replaced with adoration and love. I am blessed to have a loving husband by my side who is also a wonderful father. Our son (and two other daughters) have been lucky to grow up loving two parents of different ethnic backgrounds. And yet there has always been the element of the unknown. Neither my husband nor myself would ever be able to entirely comprehend what it felt like to grow up bi-racial child in a world that is not always embracing of things and people that are different. I was faced with trying to figure out how to prepare my son for issues that he may face in his life due to his ethnicity that I had no firsthand experience with.

The election in 2008 had a profound effect on our family. As you pursued your dreams and became the nominee for president, there was a shift in the air. I was overwhelmed with the implications your success had for my children’s lives, particularly for my son. We watched the debates leading up to the election as a family. I lined up three small chairs and made the kids popcorn (admittedly, a bit of a bribe for them to sit and watch something they did not really understand). I explained that although they may not understand what they were watching, it would have an important impact on their lives, regardless of the outcome of the election.

We were watching history unfold, a story that had a direct impact on our children. I felt this was especially true for my son because he could see himself in your face.

He was 5-years-old at the time you were elected president. And although I realize you were in the midst of pursing your dreams, you inadvertently simultaneously changed my son’s life. Quite frankly, I believe you changed the lives of sons across the world. This, Mr. President, is no small thing. My son could see himself in you, the leader of our country, something no child of color had been able to do in America prior to your presidency. He was at an age when he had just become aware that my skin did not look like his. You gave my son in this moment something I could not.

My son is vibrant and funny, an incredible athlete, a well-balanced mix of tenderness and independence. I’ve loved him and raised him to the best of my ability. You gave him something that I could not, the possibility that he could actually be anything he wanted. This is a concept that far surpasses any political orientation; it is not a Republican or Democratic concern, it is purely an acknowledgement of what all mothers want for their sons — an opportunity to pursue their dreams, to be anything they want to be. Mothers of mixed-race children are often confronted with the limitations that subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle prejudices can bring.

As a photographer, I felt compelled to share visually in some way, the impact you and your political success had on my son’s life. I think perhaps this image says it, far better than my words could ever convey. I do not know where his dreams will take him, but I do know that the path you carved in your life will benefit him as he grows as a man, in ways he will probably never fully understand. I realize the possibility of my son and/or myself meeting you personally is quite unlikely. So I wanted to take this opportunity to share my gratitude.

Thank you on behalf of all mothers of mixed-race children for making the words “You can do anything you want in life” feel like the truth. You have changed the lives of children across the globe and that, Mr. President, is a wonderful gift. And more personally thank you on behalf of my son … thank you.

Elizabeth Messina



 “I have a dream that my four little children will one
day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the
color of their skin but by the content of their character.”


a little more sweetness...

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  1. Nov 02-2012 , 03:04PM
    cool image! good idea!
  2. Nov 02-2012 , 10:41PM
    Nicely done!
  3. Deidre:
    Nov 02-2012 , 11:27PM
    Thank you Elizabeth,

    Such a powerful and positive picture. Your words are very moving and give me hope. We need more acceptance and more awareness of what it is like to be mixed/black/non-white in general. We need to do more to even the playing field for all including inner city kids who may not have a good school, healthy food, or stable family. I really hope people will give more this holiday season. Having food on the table and good health is way more important than one more fancy vase.
  4. Nov 03-2012 , 12:34AM
    This is beautiful. I had tears in my eyes while reading this! :) Best wishes to you and your family.
  5. Celina:
    Nov 03-2012 , 01:24PM
    This is so inspiring, thank you for sharing goodness xo
  6. Erica:
    Nov 03-2012 , 07:31PM
    Beautiful article, beautiful photo, and beautiful child. Thank you for sharing it with us. P.S., those red shoes at the start of your die for. :-)
    Thank you for your work and your thoughts. Bless you and your family.
  7. Kate:
    Nov 03-2012 , 11:09PM
    I'm interested to know why you didn't feel the same sense of impact for your daughters? Will they have to wait for the first black women to run the White House before they can too feel that they can be anything that they want?
  8. Nov 04-2012 , 10:57AM
    thank you for the kind words...actually kate, i did & do feel the same sense of impact for my daughters...this particular photo & letter was about & for my son....i often do special photos & write about each of my children....wishing you all the best...elizabeth
  9. Nov 04-2012 , 02:18PM
    Beautifully written, Elizabeth.
  10. Nov 04-2012 , 08:18PM
    goosebumps. you clearly love your little ones so much
  11. Erin O'Brien:
    Nov 05-2012 , 01:10PM
  12. Nov 05-2012 , 02:10PM
    Hi Elizabeth,
    I just read your open letter to the president and wanted to send you a little note. I'm a 31 year old women who is bi-racial (my dad is black & my mom is Hispanic). My siblings & I are very light skinned and could pass as Caucasian so I'm well aware of what it’s like growing up bi-racial. You would be surprised how many times I've been around a group of people who don't think there is anyone of African American decent around and how racist people still are in this day and age.
    I know your letter mostly spoke about raising a bi-racial son, from my experience being a bi-racial girl is just as hard. I can remember being in elementary school and telling a little boy I was part black he flat out told me "you’re not black, look at your skin, you're a liar". In middle school I was called "white chocolate" my freshman year of high school a girl who I never met wanted to fight me because she "didn’t like the way I looked". I hope your daughters never have to deal with this kind of ignorance as they grow up, but don’t be surprised if they do.
    I would love to correspond with you since I'm doing researh on a children’s book I’m waiting to write about growing up bi-racial and would love your input since my experiences are from the early to late 90’s.
    I would love to hear from you.
  13. Nov 06-2012 , 12:04AM
    Hello Elizabeth,

    thank you for posting this letter. despite not having children of my own at the moment, I can relate to your words as they put the future into a different perspective.
    let's hope we'll be able to keep Obama for another four years.

    kind regards.
  14. Nov 06-2012 , 11:02AM
    Thank you Elizabeth for your words,
    Your image and words go right to my heart. Thank you for bringing the beauty into this world. Thank you for being here and inspiring people.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!!
  15. Nov 06-2012 , 04:00PM
    *New Follower* ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS POST AND YOUR BLOG! I am currently planning a wedding myself:)
  16. Nov 06-2012 , 04:04PM
    loved this post! so happy to be following you. I am planning a wedding myself:) *new to the blogging world*

  17. Ling:
    Nov 08-2012 , 09:24AM
    This is an iconic image.
  18. Nov 11-2012 , 03:23PM
    Long time follower - first time commenter. :) Loved this post!
  19. Nov 12-2012 , 12:10PM
    Sweet picture and words!!
  20. Nov 12-2012 , 07:14PM
    Powerful picture and writing!
  21. Nov 28-2012 , 09:59AM
    [...] one mother and artist on “I was faced with trying to figure out how to prepare my son for issues that he may face [...]
  22. Nov 30-2012 , 05:41PM
    Elizabeth, love.

    What a profoundly beautiful letter. Did you hear back from him? I love watching your work grow and morph. You just get more and more amazing every day. I'll never forget pregnant you standing on my bed, straddling pregnant me, and the brilliant photos that came from that shoot. They are the best art in the house and we enjoy them every single day.

    Rock on.