COLUMBIA — Six Columbia residents gathered to assess President Barack Obama's first year in office at the Armory Sports Center on Wednesday night.
The discussion is a way to celebrate Black History Month. The topics of the war in Iraq and health care dominated the session, which saw a much smaller turnout compared to 2009’s panel of nearly 100 people at St. Paul AME Church. With the smaller setting, the discussion resembled a family dinner conversation, rather than a formal meeting. The panel used one another's statements as a springboard to generate further dialogue.
“It is an opportunity for the community to come together and see some of the effects of President Obama coming to the White House,” Tyree Byndom said.
All of the attendants were Obama supporters, although they did not agree on all of his policies. The panel gave their opinions on everything from Obama’s plans for health care reform to his thoughts on repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military.
One of the most debated topics was the Iraq War. Every panel member agreed they were disappointed that Obama had not yet come through on his promise to withdraw American troops from Iraq.
Addae Ahmad was especially disconcerted, saying that this promise was one of the main reasons Obama had his vote.
"I would give Obama a 'C' at this point," Ahmad said, grading the president’s efforts to date.
Panelists disagreed on why the president has still failed to remove American troops from Iraq. Some said that Obama had more important things, such as the economy, to handle at home. Others suggested that because Iraq is in a period of civil war, it would be impossible to withdraw troops at this point.
“Obama said, ‘You just can’t pull them out,’” Almeta Crayton said.
Obama’s health care reform plans were close to the heart of many of the community members. Some knew family or close friends who felt they had been treated differently with secondary insurance outside of Medicaid, which was part of the reason why they want universal health care.
“If you have a healthy country and healthy people it keeps the country vibrant and productive,” Ahmad said.
However, some felt that Obama’s plans for health care could seem too much like a "dictatorship." Instead, many wanted more accessibility for those who need health care.
“The key is to make it affordable,” James Robnett Jr. said.