President Barack Obama (and Making History)

If you had told me last year at this time that Barack Obama was going to be the Democratic candidate for the office of President of the United States, I would not have believed it. In fact, I said as much in a piece I wrote last year, where I stated that John Edwards would be the nominee. Turns out I was wrong. And more important, I’m happy that I was wrong.

I look back to last year, and how I thought the political currents would flow, and I now see how much of my thinking was mired in a bitter cynicism that becomes all too easy to live with the older you get. I am not ashamed of that cynicism, but I am glad that I have been able to force myself to see past it, and to borrow a phrase from Obama, to embrace the audacity of hope.

There are many words that can be used to describe me, but “naïve” is not one of them. When I speak of hope, I do not do it in some childish way, deeply rooted in the belief that hope is enough to get you by. No, I fully understand that hope is an empty concept without a force of determination and a willingness to sacrifice backing it up.

I come from a family that was raised in the oppressive political climate of the segregated South. My grandparents went to a colored-only school, and their grandparents had been slaves. My grandfather and grandmother hoped that their children and grandchildren would live in a country free of segregation, but they did more than simply hope. They, along with millions of other Americans of every color and religion, struggled to make their hope a reality.

It is easy to lose hope, especially in a society that thrives on keeping the masses afraid. Fear is both a great weapon and a great commodity, and the American people have been all too willing to both buy into and succumb to the fear that is thrust before us on a daily basis. And in order to make room for the fear in our hearts, minds and souls, something else must be pushed to the side—and that something else is inevitably hope, because hope is the opposite of fear. Fear holds you back, while hope moves you forward. Fears traps you in the mindset of the things you can’t do, but hope liberates you to the possibility of what you can do. Fear simply says, “No, you can’t.” Hope simply says, “Yes, you can.”

Barack Obama helped give me and millions of others hope. It is not a false hope, provided we understand that hope is a means by which we find the strength that others do not want us to realize. Hope is what kept Martin Luther King Jr. going when he was attacked for fighting segregation and inequality. Hope is what gave Malcolm X his clarity of vision after he visited Mecca. Hope is what kept Nelson Mandela alive all of the years he was in prison. Hope is what brought down the Berlin Wall. Hope is what keeps fat people dieting and ugly people looking for love.

So many people have talked about the historic times we are living in. The candidacy of Hillary Clinton and the nomination of Barack Obama are being spoken of as historical, and when Obama is elected president, history will have been made. But it is important that we all understand that history is not an individual moment. History is not Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the liberation of the concentration camps. History is not Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, nor is it the Mets winning the 1986 World Series.

Instead, history is the seconds and the minutes and the hours and the days and the weeks and months and the years and the decades that lead up to the moments we think of as historical. The moments in history that we remember from school are merely the culmination of everything and everyone leading up to that moment. Neal Armstrong walking on the moon is just part of the history that led to that moment.

It is important that we understand the importance of the seemingly unimportant moments and people that are actually what lead to the moments we define as historical. Me, writing this essay, and you reading it, are all pieces of history that will culminate in the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. And it is very important that we all understand this—that we all begin to try and grasp the concept of our own individual importance. There are those that would argue that one vote does not make a difference, or that none of us have the power to truly evoke change. But I would have to say that one voice, in conjunction with other individual voices, can become a mighty chorus.

I often think of my grandparents when I think of the possibilities of hope and the realities that can occur when hope is reinforced with diligence. And I think of them when I think about how history does not record all the names and events that are part of the bigger picture. Marshall and Nannie Walker will never be remembered the way Martin Luther King has been remembered; but they were there. They did their part. It was not pointless or futile, and even though there is not single history book that makes reference to either of them, they are a rich part of history. And when Barack Obama is elected President of the United States, my grandparents will be part of that history as well, just as you and I will be—if we so choose.

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