Monday, November 03, 2008

Barack Obama and the American Dream

Around the time that Barack Obama was growing up in Hawaii, I was growing up in Pasadena, California. We lived in a craftsman house surrounded by trees and, entering the etched glass front door, there was an old Persian rug in the foyer. At the bottom of the stairs, between the pocket doors leading into the living room on one side and the library on the other, I would lay face down on that rug, pretending I could fly.

I’d surround myself with comic books, an adventure story or a mystery, and a large drawing pad, and I'd spend time reading and sketching out my dreams. I’d imagine that I was on the stage, famous and beloved. I’d listen to the sound of music drifting out of the living room. Sometimes I’d pray for super powers, so I could spend my life helping people.

The world was before me, laid out across the fields of my imagination.

In truth, my life was not idyllic, though I was more fortunate than many. I didn’t grow up thinking much about race, probably because my parents had taught me to be the best person I could be, not the best person I as an African American girl could be. I had always lived in integrated neighborhoods and attended integrated schools. My family was middle class, my grandparents had been business owners, my parents were college educated. I was a dreamy, shy kid, and an excellent student.

Sometimes when walking home from school, debating whether I’d rather be a pilot or an actress, somebody would drive by and yell the n-word out of their car window.

Out there in the wider world, Martin Luther King, a man of peace, had walked from Selma to Montgomery. I had been taught to trust the police, but these police were really angry about something, holding rifles and yelling at Dr. King and the people walking with him --- students, religious leaders of many faiths, parents, working people, famous people and people who were unknown. He was walking with other black people, but also with white people, with brown people, people with roots in Asia and with the first Americans. All were peaceful.

They simply wanted everyone to be able to vote.

"Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom. Let us march to the realization of the American dream.”

--- The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights marchers on the road from Selma to Montgomery, wearing leis symbolizing peace. The leis are said to have been the idea of Hawaiian minister Reverend Abraham Akaka.

I put aside my comic books, and started to realize that I did not need any super powers to be of service to others. I started to dream in real life, and my heroes were named Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy.

By the summer of 1968, two of the three had been killed, shattering my youthful illusions.

There’s just something wrong with becoming cynical when you’re barely old enough for middle school. Somehow, I didn't give up.

Through my youth, my teen years and now into my adult years, it has become obvious that Martin Luther King was right. The time for the idea had come. Slowly, at times imperceptibly, we marched on to a time when the realization of the American dream became at least a possibility for all.

For eight years now, though, that dream has been on the endangered list. Now is the time to nurture that dream before it becomes lost.

Photo (c) AP/Elaine Thompson --- Obama at Democratic event in Washington state, 2006.

This election is our chance - our moment - to restore the simple dream of those who came before us for another generation of Americans. But only if we can come together like previous generations did and close that divide between a people and its leaders in Washington.

Because in the end, the choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It's about the past versus the future.”

What became of that dreamy little girl of days passed? I graduated from a fine university in Los Angeles, with a major in English and minors in art and theatre arts. I became an assistant director, specializing in motion pictures, and I was invited to join the Directors Guild of America. I do a little writing from time to time. I still dream while I listen to music, enjoying a range of great music from Clay Aiken to Yo-Yo Ma. The joy of my life is service, so I do a bit from time to time for organizations ranging from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to UNICEF.

I learned an early lesson about looking not at the color of skin but at the content of character. I look at people instead of labels, so I still tend not to think much about race, or religion, or gender or sexual orientation, except for when I consider what a gift to my life diversity brings.

I never learned to fly, but every once in a while, I soared.

I guess I found my American dream. In these difficult economic times, it’s not always certain that I will be able to hang onto it.

And what about that kid from Hawaii, whose mother was from a small Kansas town and whose father was from Kenya? Barack served the people by becoming a community organizer. He earned a law degree from Harvard, was president of the Harvard Review, practiced as a civil rights lawyer and taught constitutional law. He served in the Illinois State Senate for eight years and is currently a member of the U.S. Senate.

I understand that he has a decent chance of becoming president of the United States.

And though he is quintessentially American, and focused on the needs and concerns of those living in this country, he is, truly, African/American, as well, with an eye on our place in the world.

He is the face of America’s future --- if we are bold enough to choose it.

The time has come.

There is no reason for me to list the facts and figures of Barack Obama’s background, education, endeavors and political career --- the information is now obvious and everywhere. I don’t need to cite his policies and positions on the issues: on the day before this historic presidential election, I can’t impart any knowledge with this blog that hasn’t been widely available before.

I simply want this to serve as a reminder that your vote can build a strong new foundation for a dream.


Forty years. I think about those marchers from Selma to Montgomery, who were turned back, attacked, and even though some were killed, they as a group persevered.

Forty years --- and I can simply stroll into my precinct and vote for the most capable and the most inspiring candidate in my lifetime.

Barack means blessed. On Tuesday, November 4, I hope we all will be blessed with the courage to seize our dreams and turn them into a bright new reality.

The time has come. Now is the time for Barack Obama. For America. For the dream.

"The true test of the American ideal is whether we're able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them. Whether chance of birth or circumstance decides life's big winners and losers, or whether we build a community where, at the very least, everyone has a chance to work hard, get ahead, and reach their dreams."

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Anonymous said...

Great article. In many ways Senator Obama reminds me of John F. Kennedy. Ironic's like coming full circle. I voted early to avoid the long lines and perhaps bad weather. My fingers are crossed...and my toes too. I sincerely hope we as a people can put aside the color of one's skin and do what is right for America.

Carolina Clay said...


An awesome blog for an historic occasion and realization of a long overdue American dream!

Past the election, a President Barack Obama will bring this country together.

Celebrating change for Amerca!


P.S. I borrowed your last picture for my blog. *g*

Ashes said...

EXCELLENT blog - Go Blue!

Corabeth said...

berk, every time you put cyber pen to paper, you soar.

Massachusetts does not have early voting but even if we did, I would wait until tomorrow. I want to cast my vote on election day and feel good about all that America is and can be again.

One day to a new beginning

Raise the flag of freedom high!

Every man will be a king

There's a new world for the winning

There's a new world to be won


QBBabe said...

Berkeley, your writing always impresses me. This time, even more than the writing is the content.
The dream is alive!

Liz said...

Berk, I stayed up late in my hospital room, and I cried tears of joy for the USA and for the world, when CNN declared his victory.
I did not get to read your blog until tonight.(Only been home a couple of days.)

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. You wrote a wonderful blog.

You would not believe how much Canadians cared about this presidential election. In the rehab hospital, EVERYONE stayed up to watch the outcome. The nurses kept sneaking into patients' rooms to catch their TV's, there being none at the nursing station, of course.
The next morning in the cardio class, Obama's win was all we could talk about.
I watched him on 60 Minutes tonight and I am still impressed by him. A new day has dawned at last.