Barack Obama, the son of an African man from Kenya and an American woman from Kansas, is the president-elect of the United States. Even though I admired his politics, intelligence, and articulateness in sharing his message of change and hope, deep down I didn’t believe a black man could become president of this country.
But I was wrong. A black man is the president-elect of the United States of America. A significant majority of Americans did not see race as the deciding factor; voters were drawn to the man.
Maybe it’s a generational thing? For those of us who were alive and active in the 60s, we remember not only the overt bigotry of the segregated south, but also subtle exclusionary practices that permeated the entire nation. Fifty years ago at almost this exact time, I sat with a friend at a segregated lunch counter in the Greyhound bus terminal in Richmond, Virginia. When we were finally dropped at the city limits, the police told us that if we ever came back, we wouldn’t be leaving.
When Obama delivered his acceptance speech, I wept. The tears began when he said, “This has been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” They came again when he said that he knew his grandmother was watching, and when he acknowledged “this victory is not mine it is ours … all Americans, Black, White, Asian, Native American, disabled and not, gay and straight, old and young… we are still a government of the people by the people and for the people and we will not perish from the earth.”
Before I went to sleep I reread Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech delivered 45 years ago in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It began, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
MLK went on to say that, in spite of progress in civil rights, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation “the Negro still is not free…. Still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” Martin said that the “new militancy must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”
When I put it down, I remembered that day I got out of Richmond alive, and now I see in my lifetime an American president who, in addition to everything else he is and has accomplished, also happens to be a black man. Those were my last tears, and then I asked a blessing for Barack (whose name in Hebrew means “blessing”)… stay healthy, and lead us on a righteous path to be the nation our forefathers promised us, a land of liberty, with justice for all.
God bless you, Barack Obama, and bless this country as a beacon of hope and freedom. I say this for all my relations, mi takuye oyacin.