Dr. Lucille Ijoy, an 84-year-old grandmother from Philadelphia, really likes President Obama. So she made a rap video for him.
Ijoy says she’s been a fan of Obama since 2008, and as his presidency winds down, she wanted to express her gratitude through song. “I sit in here my rocking chair, my mind begins to wander / Grandmom thinks it’s time to say thank you to Obama,” she raps.
Now that “Grandmomma gets funky for Obama!” has been viewed nearly 150,000 times on Facebook, Ijoy is encouraging others to thank the president for his service too. “Put your pen or pencil or social media right where your mouth is,” she told me over the phone Tuesday morning.
Ijoy says she doesn’t expect to see another black president in her lifetime, and she’s concerned about the state of politics as we enter the next presidency. “People of different genders and women and immigrants are being excluded,” she said. “It’s fueling vitriol, and that’s going to be sad.”
Below is a conversation, edited for length and clarity, with Dr. Ijoy, a family therapist whose website is appropriately named listentograndmomma.com.
Dr. Ijoy, this isn’t your first musical tribute to the president. A few months ago, your granddaughter Lucille, who is a dear friend of mine, sent around “President Obama, You’re Doing a Realllllll Good Job.” It’s my personal favorite.
Oh, yes. I got a letter from the president and his wife and two daughters and Sunny and Bo thanking me. Just a nice letter. I also did buttons—I’m going to send a whole box to Lucille. The buttons say, “President Obama, you’re doing a realllllll good job.” And the president sent a thank you note for those, too.
It’s the last year of President Obama’s term. And clearly, you wanted to thank him. What is your favorite thing about his presidency?
My favorite thing was to see what a family man he is, and how well he and Michelle present with their children and dog and the grandmother. The grandmother living there at the White House with the children and family! I’m a family therapist, and I’m always looking for that quality in people. And the work they do! Michelle is a hardworking person, and well, him! How well he keeps it together in the face of adversity, but always goes on anyhow.
One of the lines in your rap goes: “He keeps on signing many bills day and night, with his left hand,” and then the video cuts to the president signing the Affordable Care Act alongside the young African-American boy Marcelas Owens. It’s an iconic image. Was that your favorite policy of the president’s, or do you have another?
That’s one of my favorite. It’s a “simple” thing he did. Most people understand that everyone needs health care. And for that reason I reached for the simplicity. How many people will benefit from affordable health care? I just think that’s central for me.
Why do you love Obama so much?
I am a lover of humanity. It’s who i am, it’s a central part of me. And I look to see how people are navigating in the world and how are they getting along with the gifts God has given them. I look for that in everybody. Though we’ve never met face to face, looking at the president from afar, I thought, who is this person? How did he even think he could be the president? He didn’t start out early in the morning thinking he could be president. He is basic and humble, a community person, but he has the spirit, that “I can do this” spirit. He’s confident.
There’s a puppet in the video. Who made that?
Oh! My sister Carolyn Washington, my baby sister. I’m 84, and she’s 74. One of my sisters who died, she made things: potholders and aprons. She was the artist. And my sister Carolyn said, I’m gonna make it look it like you. I have grey locks and I love purple. So, when I took the puppet to the studio I thought [the producer] was gonna take a picture of it. But instead, there it was in the video!
You’ve got some serious dance moves. Do you break it down often?
That’s not me doing all that dancing in the video. My hair in the video is a wig, you know. I had my wig on and my red top and did my dance as much as I could. And then he put the wig on a younger girl, and she did her dance. And they spliced it together—and how they do that, I have no idea!
This song is a bit of a callout to others to thank Obama. How do you think folks should be thanking the president?
They don’t have to let me know that they’re doing it. Put your pen or pencil or social media right where your mouth is. Say something even on the Facebook. Be a part of the “thank you” community. I think it’s now time to say, “thank you for all you’ve done.” He’s not a perfect man, but he’s a good president and I think we need to say thank you.
Do you write all of your songs yourself?
All the songs and lyrics. Bill Jolly made the beat. He is awesome. So I was really so happy to ask him to help me with the project. And all the songs have a diddy spirit. Do you know what a diddy is?
I do! When you’re not performing hit rap songs, how do you spend your time?
I do workshops in different places: stress management, anger management, parenting, grief recovery. And I go to prisons and to halfway houses and outpatient programs. I’ve been doing that work for 50, 60, 70 years. And then I write books about it.
Did you imagine this video would get so big? Why do you think it strikes a chord with folks?
No! I really, honestly, truly and honestly didn’t. It didn’t start out like that. I wanted to do a song, and the [the producer] asked me to try and make it into a rap. And he eliminated some of the verses and he put the beat with it, and it clicked, and the next thing I know there it was. I thought we’d send it on YouTube and a few people would look. I had no idea.
Did you ever think you’d get to see a black president?
You know, I never thought about that so much. Maybe my age group of people, even thinking about it…It wasn’t in my head. It was more like, wouldn’t that be good. And then all of the sudden he was winning and was like “Who is this?!” All of that was new, and it grew and grew, and we got into the spirit of it. We had watch parties and bake sales and were raising money. And now we’ve watched the girls grow up from little bitsies, and everyone is in love with Michelle.
Do you think we will see a black president again?
No. That’s just a simple no. I think we’re working through a situation now. It’s very hard, and it’s fueled with a lot people, people who don’t want to be inclusive. And people of different genders and women and immigrants are being excluded, and it’s fueling vitriol and that’s going to be sad. I won’t live to see [another black president]. But we had him! We saw what could be! The 44th president was a black man, and we’ll take it from there. The next generation will have to do what they do to make the world a better place. Women deserve equal pay and we need to let them use their bodies how they see fit.
Do you support a specific candidate in this race?
I feel free enough to tell you! I support Hillary. I think she’s more than qualified, and she’s a human being. The Clintons have made mistakes. They’re both trying to get it together. And beyond that I think she’ll be a good president, and I’ll be voting for her.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.