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Obama and the morning after: Why we too must change...

By K. Myles/NAACP

I haven't posted since election night... In part, I think I was taking a much needed break from blogging, but yet another part of me needed to take a little while and really savor and appreciate the moment. With the election of President-Elect Obama, came the proof; the tangible evidence of the potential we've so long described. All that we've fought for, all the meetings, all the marches, the protests, and demonstrations, were all redeemed that night as he stood before the podium as our newly elected President. Before a multi-racial audience of more than 125,000 people, Barack Obama was equality personified...

His ascension carried with it the promise that buried deep within the crumbling hallways of inner-city schools and off-the-beltway communities, there are pieces of excellence; young men and women, needing only an opportunity and the belief in their own abilities. He showed the world that genius Can be found on a basketball court and that competence and character should always trump color and condition. As a Black man, a life-long community organizer, and as an American, I was moved to tears...

But even in my admiration, I was stricken by a harsh reality. The brilliance of his accomplishment served to clearly illuminate a very troubling gap: The frightening disparity between our potential and our performance... After all, it was only in April of this year that the Editorial Projects in Education Research Foundation released its 16 page comprehensive report on Graduation Rates within the Nation's 50 largest cities. It showed a graduation rate for African American students as a paltry 53%.

I asked myself, how is it possible that at the same time we see an African American rise to the highest office in the land, we'd still see so many of our youth imprisoned by menial aspirations and self-imposed limitations... I struggled to juxtapose the images of Martin and Abernathy, Hamer, Rustin, Bethune, Medgar, and countless others opening the doors to welcome this very morning, and in the same light, seeing nearly half of our youth walking away without an education or the opportunities it provides. Ironically, on the day that the world acknowledged and celebrated our capacity to lead and make change, it became most clear that some of the most ardent unbelievers are our own children.

A few days ago; just after the election, I was asked to come and speak at a local High School to a group of African American children. I began my remarks by asking approximately 20 young men and 20 young ladies what they planned to do after High School. Each of the young ladies I spoke with, had an aspirational goal. There were future Nurses, Teachers, Engineers, and Lawyers, and even 1 Basketball player. When I turned to the young men, it was a much different picture. Among them, there was one future engineer, one future Graphic Designer, one future Sailor, one future basketball player, and 16 I don't know's.

I looked into the faces of these 15, 16, and 17 year-old young men and felt a profound sense of sadness. It was as though the meaning and significance of what had just occurred had somehow escaped them. They were clearly celebratory; but while they proudly cheered the symbol, they'd missed the substance. I had hoped that the election would have energized them to reinvest in their own potential, and that we could have talked about what it meant to live in a world without limits... But I was met by the reality that a ship so long adrift would not be so easily righted.

I brought that back to our branch and made it clear that if we hope to be of service to our community; here was the fault-line of our crisis. This must be the front-line of our efforts. So while we celebrate this moment when the world itself seems ready to believe in us, we must work even harder to ensure that our children believe in themselves.

And so it is for all of us who work in the community. There are no more excuses... No more easy explanations for unfortunate outcomes. I'm not so naive as to believe that the world has changed overnight; but I am optimistic enough to believe that by working together, we can be the change we seek.

now back to the grind.

 

 
   

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