Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thoughts On President-Elect Barack Obama

Hell has officially frozen over. A blast of fresh air is about to blow into the White House. The dream that was proclaimed 45 years ago has reached its culmination. The 21st century has officially begun. That sound you just heard--was the collective cry of the men and women who died in the bottom of slave ships; in shackles and chains in cotton fields on Southern plantations; who hung from poplar trees after being beaten and maimed; who died from an explosion in a Sunday school and driving to help those who were never allowed to vote gain the opportunity and exercise the right to vote. So that this day could happen. A black man, son of an African man and a young white woman from Kansas, who rose up to become the first black president of the Harvard Law Review to a Chicago(say it with me) COMMUNITY ORGANIZER to a state Senator from Illinois to a United States Senator representing that same state to now, the first of his kind to be president of these United States. This is the equivalent of when the late Harold Washington became the first black mayor of the city of Chicago(I can't help but think that that may have partial inspiration for Mr. Obama); it's also the equivalent of Nelson Mandela becoming the first black president of South Africa.

Along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oprah and the scores of men and women we saw on TV from across the nation, I wept openly after the announcement was made that Barack Obama was named President-Elect Tuesday night after an overwhelming landslide in the electoral vote. I wept for those men and women who hadn't even dared to dream that this day would happen. For those who thought it would never happen in their lifetimes, including myself. Who had shed blood and tears and sweat just so we could, at the very least, be invited to the table, if not given the seat at the head of it. I wept for Madelyn Dunham, Obama's grandmother, who died just one day before getting to see her grandson make history. I wept as a proud black man that I got to see a nation that has finally figured it out and is finally growing up, just a little bit. I also wept for the young black men and women, particularly of grade school age, who got to witness this moment, and who can, and without any hesitation, now say that when they grow up, they want to be president. And the young Hispanic and Latino men and women. And the young Asian men and women. And the young Native American men and women. The door has officially been opened. We are now allowed to sit at the head of the table.

I was glad that I was able to call my 76-year old mother, who after witnessing all that she has seen in her lifetime, including a World War and the debacle in Vietnam; Jim Crow and segregation; race riots and the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, among many others; I'm glad she got to see this moment and that I was able to share in that moment with her briefly over the phone.

This is indeed a new day. But yet, with the celebration of this monumental occasion, comes always, the cold water of reality. This most likely will not change the state of race relations in this country. At least, not overnight, or even during the course of Obama's first term in office. Neither will the problems that have beset us and which now he is being challenged to deal with after he is inaugurated on January 20th of next year. I honestly think that, given the nature of who he is, he will probably be under much more scrutiny than any president ever has been. And consequently, his safety and the safety of his family will be an ongoing concern--much more so now than it ever has been before. Now the real work begins. And not work that is merely on his shoulders. We elected him to be president of these United States. Our United States. As such, we need to stand by him, support him, long after the fanfare of this election and the upcoming inauguration has died down. We need to fight with him for those who don't have a voice or the ability to fight for themselves. To fight for better jobs and a stronger economy. To bring an end to an unjust and unnecessary war and bring our troops home to their longsuffering families and friends. To bring about universal health care for the millions who have gone without it for far too long. To save a disastrous educational policy that is doing nothing for our kids. To help those who can't help themselves, up out of poverty and hunger and illness and illiteracy.

I really hope that with the inevitable scrutiny, will also come, a willingness to let this man govern, as he sees fit, and be allowed to make mistakes, which is granted every human, and has certainly been granted to the previous 43 presidents of this country. I believe that he has surrounded, and will surround, himself with very capable people who will seek to move this nation forward and hopefully salvage the sullied reputation of this country, both here and abroad. But as I said, he will need the help of all of us. We cannot just sit back and take an idle approach to how things are run in this country. We must speak up and speak out and often. And we must pray--for him, for his family, for his advisors, and for his cabinet. For their safety and security. That they don't succumb to the pressures of this job. And that they'll be able to help lead this nation on the road to recovery that it so desperately needs.

President-Elect Barack Obama, you have been blessed. And you are a blessing to us, by God, to help lead a still very young nation onto bigger and better things. And to be a blessing to others, both near and far. I wish you Godspeed, health and prosperity, safety, wisdom and strength. And Peace!

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