A week ago, 28-year-old Erika Dungee (pictured second from left) decided to respond to Beyonce Knowle‘s (pictured far right) e-mail, asking President Barack Obama (pictured center) supporters to donate to his campaign for a chance to win a dinner with the President, her husband Jay-Z (pictured far left), and herself at the 40/40 Club in New York. Dungee could never have imagined that the Obama campaign would call her just an evening later and announce that she was indeed the winner.
Flying from Pennsylvania to New York, Dungee, a kindergarten schoolteacher, and her husband, Bill, a school administrator (pictured second from right), embarked on a night they would never forget. NewsOne spoke exclusively with the young parents of a 2-year-old and 5-month-old to find out why President Obama being re-elected is a priority for them, what were their impressions of the commander-in-chief, what type of hosts did Bey and Jay make, and what indelible moments will they share with their children and grandchildren for years to come.
NewsOne: How did you know about the contest?
Erika Dungee: Well, I got an e-mail saying that if you donated to the President’s campaign, that you’d be entered to win, you’d get the option to meet the President, so I thought that would be really awesome.
NewsOne: How did they contact you when you won?
ED: They contacted me on Friday by phone at like 5:30 p.m. They just said, “Congratulations, you won the contest.” I was just completely floored, because it was just a day between the entering and a day between me winning so it was really fast.
NewsOne: How did you prepare for the event?
ED: We didn’t have time; everything was rushed. [They alerted me that I had won] on Friday, and we flew out on Tuesday. We had to decide on something presentable cause we were meeting the President, Beyonce, and Jay-Z. And I just looked everywhere to learn a few things about his education policies, so I would be prepared for our “Access Hollywood” interview.
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NewsOne: But you guys definitely went shopping?
ED: Yes, we had to find something presentable for the event.
NewsOne: Once you got to the event, what did you discuss?
ED: We definitely talked about teaching, and my husband is the business manager for the school district that I work at. We definitely talked about education because if it wasn’t for federal funds, our school would basically be closed. We definitely let them know that we, public schools, need to get that financial support from the government. Because if not, a lot of us would be shut down.
NewsOne: How did the President respond when you told him who you are and your position in the school system?
ED: He was really responsive. He told us he had our back and that he knows we’re in the trenches and just hang in there. They’re doing everything they can to restore some of the funds to public schools.
Bill Dungee: With the federal funding, I mentioned to him that one-fifth of our budget here in the school districts is federal funding, and he said he was going to try his best to get more funding out to public schools because our governor has really cut our state funding. We’re an economically depressed area, so our tax base isn’t great at all. We depend heavily on federal funding.
ED: Since one-fifth of our budget is federal funding, we operate on about $15 million and we receive approximately $3 million in federal funding.
NewsOne: What is the impression you got from the President?
ED: With the President, it was just his voice; he was so warm and welcoming, and that was the first thing I felt from him.
BD: For me, he had like a kind of comedic personality. The other impression I had was of his swagger. He has a swagger to him that I’ve never seen a president have.
NewsOne: What about Beyonce and Jay-Z?
ED: As for Beyonce, she was just really down to earth. We talked about our kids. She was warm and really easy to talk to. Jay-Z was just cool with that signature laugh he has. Me and my husband were cracking up, because it’s different to hear it on tape than to hear it in person.
BD: Yes, I would definitely say Jay-Z’s laugh caught me off-guard. It was definitely signature. Beyonce, I would just say she’s more beautiful in person than she is on TV. TV doesn’t do her justice.
NewsOne: Did you learn anything that you didn’t know before you went there?
ED: I learned how down to earth [President Obama is], and how he really, really has America’s best interest at heart. While I knew that before meeting him, the meeting made it clearer that everyone has to get out and vote if they want this country to continue on the right path.
BD: I think for me it was more of an understanding that we as average Americans can make a difference as far as even getting other people to vote. One of the last things that the President said to us was that since we lived close to Ohio border, we should go in to Ohio and get some more support. And we were awestruck because here’s the President asking us for help and saying that we can play a part in getting him re-elected. To me, that stuck out in my mind.
NewsOne: I understand that you are going to volunteer on election night. What motivates you to do that? And why do you think that type of work is important?
ED: It’s important because maybe somebody doesn’t have a ride or somebody’s not sure that they’re registered to vote. That’s how I can play my part, just educating everyone on what they’re supposed to do. And when I’m going to vote, however many can sit in my car, that’s who I’m taking with me or even if I have to make a couple of runs, I definitely don’t mind. Whatever it takes so everyone can get out there to vote and support the President.
BD: We live in a smaller inner city area. There are a lot of economically depressed areas here. I know when I was growing up here, it wasn’t impressed upon you to get out and vote in the presidential election. It wasn’t really made a big deal of how much of a difference you can make. So for me, it’s just trying to get the word out to a lot of people our age and younger, you know, that your vote counts and will make a difference. To get President Obama re-elected. Four more years in office.
NewsOne: What does it mean to you if Romney wins? How do you think that will affect your town, your school system?
BD: Well, I think if you just look at our governor [Tom Corbett] now, when the Republican Party got power in our state, that’s when the slashing started. Over the last three years, we’ve lost more than $2 million in state funds. Another thing is that you take the comment that Mitt Romney made about the 47 percent and I feel like my city is directly targeted — that we’re just looking for government handouts. I also feel like our city, our demographics match who he was targeting with that statement. And so I think our area will be one that’s forgotten and very much in trouble if Romney is elected as president.
ED: As for me, I’m a teacher. Our school has had layoffs year after year. And you know, next year my job may be on the chopping block. So you know I’m running for someone who supports me. And our President, he made it clear when I talked to him, he said, “I support teachers.” That meant a lot to me, because I want to work. So if I don’t have a job, that kind of defeats the purpose of me going to school — and student loans are ridiculous. You know, my payment isn’t enough and I need an income. We have two kids, we have a house, we have school. Everything needs to get paid, and you need money to do that.
BD: And I think something that President Obama keeps making a point of is that this election is all about choice. Since I’ve been following presidential elections I’ve never seen such a stark difference in opinions. I think it’s clearer than ever, one side or the other, as far as what the potential future of the country is. As we’ve seen here in Pennsylvania, I think we know how it’s gonna look if the Republicans get control of the White House.
NewsOne: Final question, how did your night end?
ED: The President gave a speech then he exited and we sat on the (4:44 unsure what is said). We just kind of hung out a little bit and waited for another chance to hang out with Beyonce and Jay-Z. And they were still there, hanging out with everybody, talking, taking pictures. We got a few last pictures, and then we just got on the bus. It was like, “Let’s just wait to leave, because it’ s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” so we kind of just hung out for a little bit and snuck in a couple of pictures.
BD: One final though is this, the President told Erica that he was gonna write her class a letter on why she was out of class. I thought that was pretty good. So hopefully we’ll get that letter and we’ll be able to share it.