6 members of the HBS African American Student Union (AASU) family discuss what the election of Barack Obama means to them.
Barack Obama ran for President on a platform of hope and a promise of change. His victory last Tuesday, November 4th was America’s first step towards these promises becoming reality. It is clear that Barack Obama’s historic victory has had a significant
impact on this country and the world. As the first African American to be elected President of the United States, his victory is especially meaningful to my community – it represents a dream deferred; something that so many of our African American parents and grandparents never thought they would live to see.
Given the complexity of what it means to be Black in America, we would be remiss to have only one writer attempt to describe the impact of this election on behalf of the entire African American community. In an effort to more comprehensively convey the significance of this election for the African American community at HBS, we offer an array of our words and emotions.
Overwhelmed, I called my Dad and all I could manage through my shock and elation was, “Did you see it?”
As I write this now, the tears have finally come.ÿ This past Tuesday I heard myself scream. Meanwhile my mind exploded as I tried to process everything. To begin to understand my emotions, you have to know a little about me.
All my life I grew up with an acute understanding of race and racism in this country.ÿ My father, a human rights activist and minister, instilled in me the incredible significance of this historic event by taking my siblings and me to rallies and marches for justice and constantly exposing us to our history. He told us of our grandfather who fought in WW II and nearly lost his life three times.ÿ Upon returning home by bus, still in uniform, a little white girl told her mother, “I’m not sitting next to that n**ger.” My grandfather was also the first black person to integrate a swimming pool in Pittsburgh, PA.ÿ
In the 4th grade, I moved to a predominately white area from an underprivileged neighborhood. I saw firsthand the vast disparities between the two communities. This new community had more resources and opportunities. However, I quickly learned that these added benefits were not meant for me.ÿ Despite previously being deemed “gifted” and simultaneously skipping a grade, my new school challenged my right to be in their “gifted” program. We fought and won.ÿ It was only one of many battles. I continue to see the need to raise society’s level of consciousness regarding racial justice. I hope that we will educate ourselves so that we can achieve true equality.
Together, let’s recognize the work that needs to be done and take action.ÿ I have hope that President Obama will lead the way to building a better world for all.ÿ
In reflecting on what this monolithic moment in human history means, I am struck by the Greek New Testament word “kairos,” denoting that things come together in the fullness of time to produce certain events. In a recent interview, Gardner Taylor, a 90 year-old Baptist Preacher from Louisiana spoke to this point by reflecting, “In this moment we must see that there is something more than a horizontal series of events at work” alluding to his belief in divine intervention.
As the Interim Pastor of the Western Avenue Baptist church here in Cambridge and an HBS/Harvard Divinity School dual degree candidate, this moment means so much to me. It becomes even more significant when I contrast the cringing historical eyesores from the Civil Rights era against a backdrop of gleaming moments of victory for African Americans in this country. There was slavery and then freedom. There was segregation and then there was integration. There was a time when I would have been considered 3/5ths of a human being and now African Americans have lawfully been extended all equal rights. There was a time when African Americans and other minorities stood no chance at being President.and now, there is Barack Obama.
It is so easy to forget that it was just 40 years ago when Dr. King, who fought and marched for equal rights, was assassinated. Remembering his prophetic dream of a future “when people would be judged not by the color of their skin but rather the content of their character” and then witnessing the triumph of America was breathtaking. What does one say in moments where words do not adequately capture depth, meaning and emotion? This achievement gives new meaning and provides a face to the maternal phrase I have grown to adore: “You can do anything you put your heart and mind to.” That includes defying all odds.
When I chose to attend Howard University, a Historically Black College, my intent was to immerse myself in the African American cultural experience, but within a top-notch educational environment. As a student, it was clear that I was among some of the smartest and most talented and capable people in the world. One question that often came up within our Howard University community was: Has America reached the point where talented women and minorities can truly reach their unbridled potential? Though it would be na’ve for me to assume that Obama’s election has answered this question once and for all, one thing is clear – this election showcased an extraordinary human being with a powerful vision who refused to be marginalized by what should have always been a non-issue in this country – his race.
As a native of the South Side of Chicago, a historically diverse, yet racially challenged city founded by the slavery abolitionist Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, I am truly overjoyed and inspired by our decision as Americans to have elected Barack Obama as President. This sentiment is driven by much more than the fact that Obama’s home is just a few blocks away from the house in which I raised. It’s driven more so by the illumination of the powerful parallel between my neighborhood, Hyde Park, as a shining beacon of unity within Chicago, and Obama as a symbol of hope for America, a country in which racism and injustice have been the norms since its founding. You must understand, Chicago hasn’t always been the way it is today. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who once described Chicago saying “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.” This is one of the many reasons that Barack Obama’s presidency will forever be held dear in my heart and in the hearts of all Chicagoans.
I have been involved with the Obama campaign since the primaries in January 2008. Although I was full of hope and exhilaration on the Presidential election night, I still had some worries, many of them fueled by my final canvassing experience in Virginia during the last weekend before November 4th.
There I was, with hundreds of volunteers from all over the country who, through the campaign’s “Getting Out the Vote” effort, had decided to spend that Saturday and Sunday canvassing. In some parts, we were greeted with warmth and excitement. We also ran into quite a few die-hard opponents who walked away as soon as they saw the Obama pins we were wearing, before we had a chance to utter a single word.
On November 4th, I went to vote. It was a very emotional day. Born in Washington, D.C. to a Senegalese father and Ukrainian mother, and raised in Dakar and Kiev, I felt the symbolic nature of this election very deeply. This was the chance for our great country to bring about change in our government and to open a new page in our national history. I was full of hope and pride for being part of this process, and yet, I had no idea what the final results would be. So when we finally heard that Obama won, like so many people in this country and around the world, I was in tears. And when I spoke to my parents who live in Dakar, Senegal shortly after the results were in, and heard how overwhelmed with joy and pride they were, I realized that it was their victory too. When I got involved with the Obama campaign, I was not certain that I would witness the day he would be elected, but I felt that his battle was well worth fighting for. And now I am about to book my ticket to Washington, D.C. for Inauguration Day in January. God Bless America and the world!
We had all been waiting to exhale that night.
The truth is that even though we have tried to use this space to provide you with a comprehensive view of what Obama’s election means to our community, we inevitably have fallen short. No 1,500-word cap can ever sufficiently house the many sentiments within our diverse African American community. What about my great-grandfather who actually marched on Washington? What about the great Frederick Douglass who, in 1872, became the first African American nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate in the U.S.? What about the people in our community who, for whatever reason, were not fortunate enough to become a part of this invaluable HBS community and gain exposure to the blessings that this community makes available to us? How do they feel?
No matter how diverse the opinions are within the African American community, one thing is certain: the election of our country’s 44th President has provided evidence that the sacrifices, pain, and hard work that so many of our ancestors endured was not in vain. As a community, we pray for the Obama family’s safety. We rejoice as African Americans. We rejoice as Americans. We rejoice as a world.