A few months ago, I was introduced to a presidential candidate by the name of Barack Hussein Obama. I shook my head and thought to myself, "How can a man in the Bin Ladin - Saddam - 9/11- Taliban - al-Qaida - fanatic Muslims - era ever win a bid for the presidency bearing such a name?
Sometime later, I spoke to a friend from Oregon, and I asked whom he thought was going to win the Democratic ticket - Edwards, Biden, Clinton? He replied, "Obama." I said, "The black guy!" and laughed out loud. I told him he was crazy. "This is America, there's no way he's going to win." My ignorant and tasteless comments didn't faze him. He instead spoke with conviction in describing his support for Barack. It made me wonder what it was about Obama that had made my friends, a blue collar father of two young children, speak so passionately about him? The last words Josh said to me that day were, "Take a good look at him, Steve. He's going to be a great president."
So I did, and found out that Obama was born in Honolulu to a black Kenyan father and white Kansas mother. When asked about his name, he once replied, "My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or blessed, believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success."
In high school, Obama admitted to using alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, but then he gave them up, saying he had learned to take responsibility for his own actions. He attended Columbia University and then graduated from Harvard Law. In 1990, he became Harvard Law Review's first black president in its 104-year history. With such an honor, he could have clerked for Supreme Court justices or worked for any law firm on Wall Street and made huge sums of money, but instead he went to go fight in the slums of Chicago as a community organizer and civil rights lawyer. He then served as a state legislator in Illinois until winning the election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
After finding this out, I immediately became a fan. I mean, why not, this country is facing so many head-shaking, heart-aching issues: a slumping economy, a flunking educational system, a major housing crisis, an enigma that is health care and an unpopular war which neither McCain, Clinton, Obama or God Himself could fix in just four short years. And that's why I like him. We already know what a Clinton administration is going to look like, and a vote for McCain would be a vote for four more years of George Bush's politics. Obama may lack the experience, but he has the drive, the passion and the ability to break boundaries.
The people of all shades and religions who pack stadiums by the tens of thousands to hear him speak are hungry for something they've never had, a politician who energizes them, a figure of their generation who gives them, yes, hope and change. They don't go because he's black. They go because he inspires.
Race is undeniably a factor in all of this. Looking deeper into the significance of him running, I thought about young black boys in the ghettos of America who believe their only chance of living the American Dream is by becoming a rapper, a professional athlete or a comedian - not that there's anything wrong with that, but those who make it are extraordinarily talented, and those who don't, well, they stay in the ghettoes becoming ordinary criminals. Just maybe they can look at Obama and say, "I can be a graduate of Harvard. I can be a young charismatic senator. I can be the president of the most powerful nation on earth."
It's an amazing milestone for this country that we might be alive to see the first black president in America, 143 years after the abolition of slavery and almost 400 years since the first boats arrived on the shores of America carrying African slaves. The U.S. is a great country that has provided great freedoms not only to its own but peoples across the world; however, it can become even greater. Doing so would require people to no longer see themselves only as African Americans, Irish Americans, Indian Americans, etc., but just simply as Americans, remembering and honoring where they came from but understanding they are part of a common idea that is America.
Imagine the day when there's no longer a need for the NAACP, when hate groups like the KKK are debunked and forgotten from this land. Obama cannot do that in four or eight years as president, but he could be a vital component as we fight the war of inequality that still burdens America.
That may sound impossible, but things that are possible are only so because people have dared to do the impossible. Samuel Adams once said, "It does not take a majority to prevail ... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men." My intention in writing this column isn't to sway people for my own political views but to ask them to take a good look at the man who is setting brushfires of freedom and unity in the minds of not just blacks or whites all across this country, but all Americans, whether they be liberal or conservative, Asian or Latino, rich or poor, man or woman.