Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama: A New Kind of Role Model

For the last forty years, since the untimely death of Dr. King, Black America has lacked a true national role model.

Sure, we have shared in the successes of athletes and musicians from Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan to Michael Jackson and Jay-Z, not to mention TV and movie stars like Oprah and Will Smith. But those people, I hate to say, would best be described as celebrity figures then idols then role models.

Not since Dr. King has a Black man been charged with leading all of his kinfolk at once. Young and old, college-educated and non-degree holder, rural and urban, rich and poor. All of these segments of the Black community, and others, were once held within the reach of Dr. King's voice.

On November 4, 2008, a man who has so much (smart, educated) yet so little (politician, half-white) in common with Dr. King made his voice heard. And Black America, albeit a generation removed, stood up and watched Barack Obama pick up the baton that Dr. King had taken from W.E.B. Dubois, his sparring partner Booker T. Washington and their predecessors Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Typically relays are run by four individuals, but - as we have learned for the last few centuries - Black America is often required to do more to achieve the same end.

So, running what amounts to the fifth leg, Chicago's favorite son Barack Obama has taken the baton and carried it further than any person of color ever has in this country.

Whether you agree with his policies or not, we can all agree that this moment will forever be remembered as having substantial significance for all Americans with Black Americans, not just African-Americans, at the fore front of that achievement.

With a Kenyan father, Barack Obama is not the traditional Black man in America. He did not live through the segregation that many of our parents and grandparents lived through for his entire life. He did not rise through the political ranks of Chicago and Illinois by being a loud proponent of affirmative action and a staunch opponent of police brutality.

If anything, Barack Obama represents the future of Black America more than most of us ever will. Namely because he represents all of America, which is exactly what Dr. King and those before him struggled so hard to accomplish.

Black America will always admire its athletes, entertainers and musicians, but we are a people best represented by those who seek to serve the public. The best of us are often those chosen to represent all Americans, not just Black Americans. The names Thurgood Marshall and Colin Powell should come to mind.

Like Marshall, Barack Obama used his knowledge of the law to leverage his way up America's ladder to success. And like Powell, he used his skill in Washington to lobby his way up the hearts and minds of Americans.

Now, a generation and some removed from Dr. King's death, we have a real role model who reminds Black Americans that everything feels so much better with a real role model in our lives. Even before we experience the benefits ourselves.

Because for the next 40 years, much like what we saw with Dr. King's emulators, Black boys and girls will strive to be more like Barack Obama. And we'll all be better off because of it.

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