As mine is the last opinion column that is published each week, I assumed that everyone would be sick of hearing about President Obama – man, does it feel good to see those two words together! I considered various topics, but I found I could simply not disregard this momentous occasion and what it means for every man, woman and child in this great nation. This country is going through a major change, and the American people have a new spirit as we venture into this new chapter in our history.
I am specifically interested in what it means for those who are generally overlooked when we think of the typical American. I’m talking about those who live in low-income areas, frequently minorities, who are forgotten and ignored unless a specific issue draws the nation’s attention. Nowadays, crimes in these communities, including those as heinous as murder, pass unnoticed by the general public; it is simply another day in South L.A. or Oakland when a child is shot or a man is killed. However, the election of a black president has brought these oft-ignored communities into the public’s collective vision.
I have a confession to make: I look white; I have never had to face racial discrimination; I have never had to worry about stability in my life, as I have never wanted for food, money or love; I am receiving an education that many will never be lucky enough to experience. So I could in no way comprehend what having a black president would mean to someone who has had to deal with challenges I have never faced, nor do I fully understand how often those issues arise in the daily lives of some.
Dr. Lalia Hekima Kiburi, a sociology and African American and African studies professor, tried to help me understand the effect she believes a black president will have on the social consciousness of less advantaged communities.
“For educators of color, Obama represents unity and a real commitment to change,” she asserted. As a Creole African American woman and educator, Dr. Kiburi has a strong belief that “students can be empowered and create social change,” a belief and passion that she demonstrates through her teaching.
This change she speaks about is something that can be reached through educating oneself, a value that she believes President Obama understands and exemplifies. Dr. Kiburi’s own commitment to this belief is evident in her past.
“I was a deviant,” she said. Using a term normally reserved for criminals and delinquents, she describes her courageous decision to take her children out of the drug- and crime-infested public schools of East Palo Alto many years ago. “I illegally ran a home school for five children,” her eyes daring me to question her motives. But I don’t want to. In fact, I have a strong desire to lean across the table and shake her hand, but, knowing that that probably wouldn’t be the most appropriate reaction, I restrain myself.
I try to imagine the desperation that prompted Dr. Kiburi to remove her children from public school and realize that parents will take risks and go to great lengths to give their children a chance at a better future. Dr. Kiburi’s determination to fight for a better life was echoed as we watched millions of Americans celebrate this momentous change in our country’s leadership and future.
“African Americans as role models can be inspiration to all social groups,” Dr. Kiburi summed up. It was as if I had been missing the point all along. Yes, President Obama is a figure who will have a profound effect on children of color and how they view the world. However, what makes this man great is not that people from some groups are affected; it is that individuals from all groups are given the hope that they too can go to college, have a successful life or even be president of the United States.
This week we marked an occasion that will be described as a turning point in history. Despite the enormous challenges ahead, it is exciting to envision the endless possibilities for a brighter future for all.
DANIELLE RAMIREZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.