On Tuesday November 4, 2008 400 years of history came full cycle as the nation elected Senator Barack Hussein Obama its 44th President and the first Black American to lead the nation. As we witnessed this momentous event our thoughts and prayers were with President-elect and his family, as they have endured much over the course of this campaign to arrive at this moment. We are also thankful for President-elect Obama and the dignity, class, and grace that he has shown under fire. Our community owes a debt of gratitude to him for the tremendous courage he has demonstrated under circumstances that none of us can truly fathom.
Tonight we think of the many Black Americans, famous and not so famous, who struggled and gave so much of themselves so that one day we would witness this historic day. Our thoughts are of Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Emmett Till, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Benjamin Mays and the hundreds of pioneers who persevered against tremendous odds and were willing to endure the indignities of their day so that those that came behind them would be embraced as full citizens. Barack Hussein Obama felt that embrace tonight as he stood on stage before half a million citizens, young and old, Black and white, who came to declare themselves part of the new American family.
We are empowered by simply being able to and address Senator Obama as President-elect Obama. It is a wonderful story of the triumph of humanity that an individual of African descent can rise to lead a nation that once enslaved Africans and sanctioned discrimination against Black Americans. While much has been made of the pride Black Americans are feeling over Senator Obama’s election, something must be said about the nation as a whole. For certain, there were some whites who harbored racist feelings toward Mr. Obama but the much dreaded “Bradley effect” was little evident in the electoral outcomes. In fact, there is something to be said for the fact that the Obama campaign was able to flip at least seven “red states” to the Democratic column.
There is no doubt Black America came through at the polls for Senator Obama. Throughout the day reports streamed in of long lines at the polls in many urban communities. We are hopeful that the exuberance that has been demonstrated over Senator Obama’s candidacy will be carried over to local elections and volunteer efforts in communities around the country. The fact that our new President cut his teeth as a community organizer validates public service at the grassroots level as an honorable vocation. And while he was mocked for his work as a community organizer by republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the fact that he was in-touch with what people were feeling on the ground that enabled him to connect with voters in the manner that he did.
Despite the electoral mandate he has been given, we should not be fooled into believing that Senator Obama can simply wave a magic wand and the multitude of challenges our nation faces will simply disappear. Nor should we, as Black Americans, expect him to be solely focused on those issues we deem as important. Barack Obama is the next President of the United States, and we fully expect him to be the leader of all Americans. We are confident that he will be mindful of the unique challenges facing Black Americans and will act appropriately when given the opportunity to confront racial disparities.
For the last eight years our country has been in a downward spiral. We have been thrust into a senseless war in Iraq that has cost us our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and innocent civilians in a foreign land; all the while draining our nation of resources that could be better spent on domestic priorities. And while we invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses, the parties responsible for the reign of terror on September 11, 2001 remain at-large because the Bush administration dropped the ball in Afghanistan. Through it all the United States stature has been diminished in the international community. And our troubles exist not just overseas but here at home.
We are in the midst of the worse financial crisis since the Great Depression and every day brings news of another business filing for bankruptcy or seeking government aid, or stocks tumbling downward. To make matters worse, unemployment has been on an upward trajectory with Black unemployment climbing at an alarming rate. The subprime mortgage crisis has taken a particularly harsh toll on Black homeowners and threatens to stall the further expansion of the Black middle class. All told we are a nation in perpetual crisis.
So as President-elect Obama prepares to be sworn-in next January he faces a tall order. It will require all of us to rise to the occasion if we are to save this nation. In this moment of extraordinary difficulty we cannot expect any one individual to have all the answers. Nor should we expect all of the answers to our problems to come from Washington, D.C. There is much to be done in our own backyards that can help move our nation in a positive direction and we should commit ourselves to working on those issues that are closest to home. If we do our part, and continue to remain vigilant, the Obama administration has a chance, over time, to transform our nation and restore it to greatness. We pray for his success.