Tonight, for a moment, I was back on my grandmother Dora’s porch in North Carolina listening to her share stories about my ancestors and speaking hopefully about what the future might have in store for her grandson. I am eight again and innocent, unaware of the boundaries society has imposed on me due to the color of my skin. Yet, my grandmother, “Momma Dora,” is fully aware but never lets it define me as a person. And I sip my ice tea and never question the hopefulness my grandmother bequeaths to me.
In many ways the election of Barack Obama as our nation’s 44th President returns me to that porch in the tiny town of Snow Hill, North Carolina. For once again, there is a hopefulness that pierces all of the negativity and bad news that has engulfed this nation. And like my grandmother, President-elect Obama has shared a narrative that inspires despite his full understanding of the difficult road ahead.
Words are truly difficult to come by to express the full range of emotions that I am experiencing at this moment. As I watched Senator Obama and his family take the stage at Grant Park the power of that picture was simply overwhelming yet sobering. After a 400 year sojourn, a Black American had succeeded in penetrating the one institution that is widely viewed as the ultimate symbol of citizenship. It is why so much has been invested over the years in perpetuating the idea that “any child can become President.” Now, that statement is true because Black Americans, who have for so long been systemically denied full recognition as citizens, can now look to one of our own as the leader of this nation. It is a remarkable accomplishment that requires a grandmother like faith to fully appreciate.
As I think about my own grandmother, my thoughts are also centered on President-elect Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who passed away on the eve of his historic victory. She too must have dreamt dreams that a young Barack did not understand but simply accepted because they came from grandmother. As the senator spoke of his grandmother Monday evening during a rally in Charlotte, I could hear in his voice and see in his eyes the realization that the hopes of his grandmother for his future was unfolding before him. Like so many of us, I believe Barack Obama had a “porch” experience that took him from Hawaii to the White House, even when he could not see the route but his grandmother could.
So, as much as we might claim Barack Obama’s victory as our own, I would like to claim it for his grandmother. Though she was not physically present to see her grandson declare victory, I know she had already claimed it many years ago during those quiet moments when sharing with her grandson she saw the potential, was inspired to dream, and set a course for her grandson that was marked by faith.