Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Americans, We Can Do Anything

One of my earliest memories -- going with my grandfather to see some of the astronauts being brought back after a splashdown, sitting on his shoulders and waving a little American flag. And my grandfather would say, boy, Americans, we can do anything when we put our minds to it." – Barack Obama

One of the most often quoted and I think one of the most profound moments in President Barack Obama’s life is this memory he has of him and his grandfather watching an Apollo rocket splashdown after a space mission. What was it about this moment that transformed a skinny black kid into believing that he could be President of the United States? The difference I believe is the difference that separates us as a nation and us a culture. You see when we are young we all want to believe that we can do anything in this world that we want to do. The problem is that at some point our reality breaks with our dreams. Something happens where some of us stop believing that we can do anything. For some reason when an immigrant black or a white person tells their child that they can do anything, they actually believe it. Unfortunately, American blacks do not speak with that same conviction.

The reason Barack Obama was able to use that moment and take it with him from the island of his youth to the halls of power was because he believed what his grandfather told him. No matter as a parent what you tell your child, if that child does not believe that you believe what you say it will mean little to their lives. It is sort of like the parent smoking weed and telling the child not to do drugs; it sort of loses something in the translation. Many blacks born and raised in America when they speak of the opportunities provided by America to rise above one’s circumstances do not speak with that same conviction and our children have suffered for it. Unlike many today while I celebrate this historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, I wonder where the next black President will will come from. Will his inauguration challenge a new generation to believe that they too can rise above their circumstances and dare to dream? I think that regardless of what a parent may have suffered at the hands of a society it is incumbent upon that parent to stoke the flames of their children’s dreams and their ambitions. If not then all we pass along to our children is hopelessness and bitterness.

If we truly believe that we are Americans and we can do anything then let us use this historic time to ensure that the dreams of all of our children can be realized by providing learning and training opportunities for all of them. We must begin to provide real concrete evidence of change and not symbolic gestures. For too long opportunity has only been reserved for a limited few. We must expand opportunity to all who are willing to pursue it. Instead of providing tax-cuts and bonus money to those who don’t need it we should begin to use that money to elevate those children who believe that they have a better chance at becoming “Scarface” than they do becoming President. It will take a lot of time, money, and effort to reverse these frightening trends. However, beginning today we have an opportunity to affirm to the world and to all in our nation that America really does stand for all of those high ideals we claim it does. I wish I could say it will be easy, but it won’t. When times are hard we have a tendency to become selfish and want to reduce opportunities instead of expanding them. It is precisely this attitude that has gotten us into the position we are in now.

I hope that instead of trying to make America what it once was, we make America what it never was, but what it could have been. I arrive at today so very hopeful not just for my children, but for all of our children. I hope that today when I tell my son he can be whatever he wants to be, I can say it with conviction and that I can believe it.

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