MURFREESBORO — Seeking his master’s degree in African-American history, MTSU graduate student Joshua Crutchfield made some personal history recently when he traveled to the nation’s capital to introduce President Barack Obama at a gathering of grass-roots organizations.
“It surprised me. It’s still kind of setting in,” Crutchfield said. “It was a pretty amazing experience.”
The nonprofit Organizing for Action invited the Murfreesboro resident and Blackman High School graduate to introduce President Barack Obama at The National Organizing Summit on Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C.
The invitation was sparked by Crutchfield’s letter to the editor that was published in The Daily News Journal in which he touted the ease in which he was able to sign up for healthcare coverage through the Insurance Marketplace, http://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace, under the Affordable Care Act.
“That legislation was important for this country,” he said. “When we look back, historically, this will be important.”
Crutchfield needed insurance after being dropped from his parents’ insurance because he had turned 26. After being encouraged by his mom to visit the website, Crutchfield said he found a plan that fit his lifestyle and price range — a BlueCross BlueShield plan that only cost him $54 a month after qualifying for a federal subsidy because he’s a graduate student.
“There were a lot of plans to choose from,” he said. “I got a really good deal. I really haven’t skipped a beat since being dropped from my parents’ plan: same doctor, same network, pretty much everything.”
His letter caught the attention of Organizing for Action, a grass-roots group that works to advocate and implement the president’s second-term policy objectives. For Crutchfield, the best thing about the trip was that his parents, Eric and Barbara, and brother Justin, a 22-year-old MTSU business major, were able to meet the president and share the experience with him.
Before giving the introduction, Crutchfield said he and his family had an opportunity to spend 15 minutes or so privately with the president, who greeted the Crutchfield men with a handshake and mom with a hug.
“She was probably more nervous than I was,” Crutchfield said of his mom. “But I think we were all nervous. But once meeting him, it felt like meeting somebody that I already know. He calmed your nerves extremely. … He even gave my brother some business advice.”
For Crutchfield, who is black, personally meeting the nation’s first black president carried special significance.
“Every president is historic you know, but especially this particular one,” he said. “And I’ve read so many things about him, about his history … all that was in the back of my head as I was meeting him.”
In introducing the president, Crutchfield admitted that he was nervous at first, but fed off the crowd’s energy and quickly relaxed, telling the audience:
“But here’s the thing, I didn't get covered just so that I can afford treatment if something happens. I did it so that something WON'T happen. I can go to the doctor before anything ever becomes a problem. … Health care reform isn't just about saving lives, it's also about living and living well!”
An introduction that lasted less than five minutes was surrounded by memories that will last a lifetime.
“After I introduced (Obama), he came up to shake my hand. He called me a natural at giving a speech. I said, ‘No, not at all,’” said Crutchfield, a teaching assistant who is used to speaking to an audience when he’s called on to teach a class. But …
“But not on that level,” he said, smiling. “Giving a lecture is one thing, but this was something totally different.”
At a dinner that evening as part of the summit, Obama mentioned the historical role of the black church in grass-roots movements and how women played a significant role in both. Crutchfield was struck by how those comments related to his own academic research in which he’s exploring the relationship between the black church and the black power movement.
It’s that thread of a call to action stretching throughout black history that prompted a young black graduate student to share his experience surrounding a historic piece of legislation by writing a letter to the local newspaper.
“Part of it is my academics. I’m a historian. I feel it’s a responsibility that I have,” Crutchfield said of why he wrote the letter. “I’m not going to be a historian that’s just a straight academic. I’m going to be one who is engaged with the public and with my community.”