Twelve-year-old Ta’Kiyah Lucas of Dover met President Barack Obama July 13 during a trip sponsored by the nationwide Kids Wish Network.
When Ta’Kiyah Lucas is asked to talk about her summer vacation this school year, she’ll have more to discuss than just being with friends or going to the beach: Ta’Kiyah will be able to tell about spending a half-hour at the White House with the president of the United States.
Ta’Kiyah made the trip to Washington, D.C., July 12 and 13 under the auspices of the Kids Wish Network, a non-profit group dedicated to helping children with life-threatening illnesses. Diagnosed more than two years ago with a cancerous brain tumor, Ta’Kiyah has undergone surgery and treatment for the disease, and doctors now consider the cancer in remission.
The 12-year-old lives with her aunt, Cherie Solomon, in Dover, who spotted a Kids Wish flyer while her niece was undergoing treatment in June 2008. When contacted by the group, Ta’Kiyah first thought of Disney World or just a trip to the Washington zoo. But when Barack Obama was elected, she changed her mind.
“My aunt said why don’t you go see the first black president?” she said.
Kids Wish coordinator Madeline Robinson said requests to visit a president are outside the norm, but the group started work on Ta’Kiyah’s request just before Obama’s inauguration. It was the first Kids Wish granted by the new administration.
Organizing the trip took “a lot of phone calls and emails,” Robinson said, but, “It was surprisingly easy, considering it was a brand-new administration. It went very smoothly.”
Ta’Kiyah and Solomon made the trip to D.C. in a limousine and stayed the night of July 12 at the Hay Adams Hotel near the White House, which donated the $800-a-night accommodations. Ta’Kiyah also had a trip to the Hard Rock Café and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving on her itinerary, but the highlight of the trip came just after noon the next day.
Walking toward the Oval Office, Ta’Kiyah’s natural shyness took over.
“I was walking like this,” she said, putting her hands up on her face, “but I could see him through my fingers. He was smiling at me.
“He kept saying, ‘It’s OK, Ta’Kiyah, you can take your hands down, it’s OK,’ ” she said. “I was just nervous and excited.”
The visit was surprisingly intimate, Solomon said; the only other persons in the room were Robinson and the White House photographer. Despite having tears in her eyes, Ta’Kiyah and the president talked for a while, and she showed him her scrapbook, containing certificates for academic achievement at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, a citation from the city of Dover and family photos. The most important of those were of her grandmother, who died of cancer. Ta’Kiyah’s mother also suffers from the disease.
Ta’Kiyah gave the president a Kids Wish medallion, and in return he gave her a presidential challenge coin. As the meeting concluded, Obama had one final question.
“He asked if I had anything I wanted to say,” she recalled. Still nervous, Ta’Kiyah declined.
“I didn’t ask any,” she said.
Solomon was impressed with Obama’s attitude during the meeting. Having to use a wheelchair because of recent knee surgery, she said the president even helped her get in and out of the chair. She also was impressed with how Obama treated her niece.
“Ta’Kiyah went in there very nervous, and he embraced her and brought her in,” she said. “He comforted her and said she didn’t have anything to be scared of. It wasn’t just in and out; he really took his time.”
“I didn’t just see him as the president,” Solomon said. “I saw him as a father.”
Despite her shyness, Solomon said her niece has a strong personality, made so partially by her grandmother and mother’s struggle with cancer and her own fight against the disease.
With her cancer in remission, Ta’Kiyah’s future is looking bright. She enters the William Henry Middle School in September and has considered setting her sights on a nursing career.
For her niece, Solomon thinks this is an experience she will remember for the rest of her life.
“I’m really happy she could experience this,” Solomon said. “I thought it would be a long process, but it wasn’t. I’m just proud and honored that she was able to meet the president of the United States.”
Email Jeff Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org