On the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination and the 53rd anniversary of the slaying of Emmitt Till, there reaps a resurgence of the so called “America Dream” in retrospect to the infamy of these two events. Where King’s body laid in rest hundreds of miles away from the capital, it was November 2008 that not only the country, but the world saw a glimpse of a black man who had just been elected to the most powerful seat in these United States. A few months later, on Jan. 20, 2009, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this same man with his hand rested on the bible would take an oath that only 43 citizens before him had declared. The inauguration of President Barack Obama was an elaborate representation of the progress paralleled to the number of years, men and women like Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Sojourner Truth and millions of others who had been on the heels of history never to see the finish line. For many this president would break the tape that separated the end from the ongoing. A Herculean Hero to usher in a new wave of pro-black policy and dismantle the era of institutional disenfranchisement within minority communities. A living breathing example of the American Dream and a song of the onward momentum “we” have made as a nation. Obama was a manifestation of those embodiments. However, it takes more than a single grain of rice to tip the scale, just as it will take more than one black president out of 44 to create enough change to support the critical concept of equality.
In continuation of President Obama’s allegory with history, if we look at this metaphorically one would notice that in the Bible it took the children of Israel 40 years exactly to enter the Promised Land. President Obama was equally charismatic, intelligent, curious, and with a downright swagger that rivaled Malcolm X. However, the metaphors categorizing him as not only an excellent candidate but also a prophet, truly raised eyebrows as he was born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia, father was Kenyan and mother white American. Further fanning the flames of this trailblazing candidate were his credentials as a professor, community organizer and lawyer. Comparative impressiveness came in the form of a skillset to galvanize those who did thorough historical parallels that pitted blacks against whites. According to the Pew Research Center’s Exit Polls, Obama was able to capture 43 percent of white voters where his Republican rival captured 55 percent. Not only that, when you look at the number of blacks who voted for each candidate respectively – 95 for Obama to nearly 5 percent for McCain, there is an unusual trend in the capacity in which Obama was seen as the overwhelming choice on each binary. However, a wise man once said, “If you ain’t got no haters, you ain’t poppin.” The percentage of blacks and whites that were among that group were at the forefront of the quantitative data.
Just like any mogul superstar, there are bound to be those who do not share in the same belief systems, policies, agendas, etc. Of course, there also are those who will find fault in principles, ethics, even fault based simply on a color line. What is most shocking is when there are other people who share within those same categorical means to an end but allow hate to haze the judgement of detecting the real from the fake. Jesse Jackson was no exception. The political giant, revered, critically acclaimed black leader during the struggles of civil rights who had fought beside Dr. King unfortunately was summed down to his lesser self. The attitude towards Barack Obama’s campaign was more than lackluster. It was obtusely offensive. We know that Jesse Jackson ran for president and was unsuccessful in doing so. He also gave the cold shoulder to a black man who looked as if he was America’s golden boy. Jesse’s posture reflected that of a bitter ex – as if he alone was married to the movement in addition to the “Black Presidency.” However, civil rights are not monogamous. Its inclusivity is what draws us all near because the fight is not just for one, but also for all. Somewhere down the trail, those lines were blurred for the reverend. The nail in the coffin came when Jackson threatened amputation of the young senator’s reproductive organs on camera. It was clear that hate, like racism are diseases in desperate need of cures. These infectious diseases sporadically instigated by those who walk in those same shoes are everything but an atrocity. However, the resolve of President Obama is what is truly commendable. In the spirit of pop culture and a sublime diss to his political rivals during a rally in April 2008, he simply made like one of his favorite rappers, Jay-Z, and “Got that dirt off his shoulders.”
Not all attention though, should be directed to Rev. Jackson because there were others who shared a similar fashion of borderline ill will. Rev. Al Sharpton, Tavis Smiley, even famed leader John Lewis had their moments. As guilty as Jackson? Perhaps not. But, not entirely innocent. Al Sharpton appeared to line up with Jesse Jackson when it came to the election of the first black president. Tavis Smiley, who apparently has proclaimed himself president of the black radio world, immaturely threw a hissy fit when Obama declined to sit down during Smileys State of the Black Union. Unfortunately, he thought it best to go over his own agenda with the president rather than the president try to win the red state of Texas. And John Lewis, who didn’t do anything egregious apart from wanting Obama to wait to cast his bid for the presidency until a later election as he threw his support to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Obama’s hater list extends much farther than these pages would allow. These are just a few highlights or rather lowlights of strife within Obama’s own community he had to overcome.
In August 2008 during the Democratic National Convention, then candidate Barack Obama became the sole Democratic contender for the 2008 presidential election by accepting the nomination. That occasion offered brilliant speeches from political juggernauts such as Maxine Waters, Mark Warner, Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi. There were performances by creative geniuses such as Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson and John Legend. The climax was the penultimate speech given by the flash of electricity and elegance that is and always will be First Lady Michelle Obama. “Tell them how this time we listened to our hopes instead of our fears, how this time we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming…and how this time we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be.” It would be a saying upon deaf ears to proclaim there has been a more magnetic first lady than Michelle Obama and even more appropriate to suggest in terms of synergy. She is the steamed milk to Obama’s macchiato. We were spellbound that night in Denver when the young senator of Illinois gave his acceptance speech in front of all the delegates and doubters. “We must pledge to always walk ahead, we cannot turn back. Not without so much work to be done, not with so many uneducated, not with so many veterans to care for…not with cities to rebuild and farms to save, not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America we cannot turn back, we cannot walk alone…we must pledge once more to walk into the future.”
I was 12 years old when President Obama won the election 10 years ago. It’s safe to say my adolescence has paved an excuse of my lack of political knowledge. I grew up not being too sure about the ramifications of George Bush, but my lack of awareness did not allow excuse of those consequences; those were equally reaped. With time must also come advancement. Much like the speeches Obama orated, time and change were always siblings. Time being flexible in its ability of being spontaneously needed or gradually brought in. Change being the effect that took place in the aftermath of the right time, presently or impending. But never in the past tense. The election and then re-election of President Obama was a first. I hope a first of many but those stories are yet to be scribed. In prospective irony, the fact that we had a progressive black president for eight years and the unruly mistake that happened in the 2016 election was the surest of sneak attacks. However, this crux should be a reminder of how dangerous the feeling of comfort can be and how rude that awakening is when we are caught sleeping on issues. With Obama, we were fortunate enough to progress for a time. Time has a way of changing the social order; anything other than forward is the antithesis. In hindsight, we still have much more work to do, 100 percent does not end at 44.