Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Reliving the Dream!"

By Joi Jennings

She squinted her 84-year old eyes, causing beads of sweat to trickle down her wrinkled forehead. Then a slight smile began to creep across her aged face.

My grandmother was having a hard time seeing the tiny box on the screen of my laptop without her glasses, but she could hear it just fine, and she liked what she was hearing. We were watching a You Tube video clip of Senator Obama’s inspirational speech entitled, A More Perfect Union.

At last, Senator Barack Obama was directly confronting the delicate topic of race. It was a highly anticipated and powerful speech on race relations in America. Not only was it the most courageous and brutally honest discussion of race that I have ever heard from a politician in my lifetime, but it also hit very close to home. The emotional effect that Obama's words had on JoeAnn Jennings, my grandmother, was simply beyond belief. According to my grandmother, the way Obama spoke was reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It's been 40 years since we have heard redemptive language in the political arena. The last person to tell the truth in these terms was indeed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Like King, Obama did not flinch from addressing the lingering pain and anger of racism in America and he did not merely recite a list of black grievances; he gave expression to white frustrations and fears as well. Could he be the "Martin Luther King" of my generation? Not quite, but close enough.

Throughout the speech, Obama eloquently captured the history of where we started, where we have been, where we are, and most importantly, where we can go. He displayed his great ability to acknowledge the history of race relations in this country, his capacity to understand our nation’s current situation, and to offer a vision for the future of America.

What I found most moving about Obama’s speech was his courage to address openly and honestly our nation’s current race relations, and how we have gotten where we are today. With a kind of honestry rarely heard from any politician, Obama laid it all on the table, verbalizing what many people may think and what others might speak about only in private. Speaking directly of black Americans, the Senator boldly and bluntly told the truth.

He acknowledged that many of the disparities faced in today’s African American communities are a direct product of the inequalities passed on from the days of slavery and Jim Crow. Obama recognized the racial inconsistencies for African Americans that began long ago, inconsistencies which still remain today in some form, including inferior schools resulting in an educational gap; “legalized discrimination” in terms of property ownership and financial matters, and job shortages, resulting in a wealth gap.

This persistent lack of economic opportunities for black men contributes powerfully to the “erosion of black families.” A lack of basic community services which “all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.”
Obama recognized that those who were defeated by society often passed down such a legacy and the individuals of this older generation still hold feelings of humiliation, doubt, fear, anger and bitterness.

In Obama’s own words, “That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity within the African American community, in our condition, and prevents the African American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”

Simply put, a lot of people needed to hear that, and it was a brave and honorable point to make. Obama encouraged the African American community to move forward, and to acknowledge "the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past.” He urged us to fight against injustice, but to do so by uniting the African American community’s concerns with the aspirations of Americans of every color and creed for such important goals as better healthcare, better schools and more jobs.

Furthermore, Obama stressed the idea of responsibility and self-help; he advocated for more fatherly involvement, more time with one’s children. He told us all that we while we face challenges and discrimination in our lives, we "must never succumb to despair or cynicism." We must continue to believe that we "can write ...[our] own destiny.”
By no means am I saying that Obama is the next Martin Luther King Jr. They are different. It was just incredible to see and hear my grandmother talk about Dr. King, after listening to Obama’s inspiring speech. It was amazing that this speech could make her dementia-plagued memory disappear, and for just a few minutes, help her recall events from forty years ago. It made me smile, witnessing her relive “The Dream.”

Obama Speech: 'A More Perfect Union'

Joi Jennings, a junior at the University at Albany, SUNY, is majoring in English and minoring in Journalism.

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