Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A New America!

Today the history books will have to be rewritten.

An African-American has been chosen as the nominee for POTUS of the Democratic Party. I say this with great enthusiasm, I will remember this day for the rest of my life. 

As an African-American man living in these United States, I have come to see both the great progress and the great strides that we have made, and must still make in this country throughout the course of these 54 democratic primaries. This country still has deep wounds that urgently need to be healed. Some of our pain comes from circumstances that were out of our control. Yet, the deepest wounds have been self-inflicted. In the coming days and months I look to stand with Senator Obama and do whatever I can to help this country move forward, but before we look to run towards the light of progress, I just wanted to reflect on what this means not only for me, but for this nation as a whole.

As Obama said last night, "This is our moment, this is our time!" I couldn't agree more. As a fellow Chicagoan I know first hand what he and his fellow democratic leaders have done to uplift the state of Illinois. Yet in speaking with my mother and family members I cannot help but think of what a change it must be for them to see such an amazing feat, and think of how far we have come.

My mother is from rural northeast Texas. A small town named Marshall, and was a graduate of Wiley College; the same college that many of you may have heard about in the movie The Great Debaters. Marshall is a town mired in the old ways of the past, and has had a hard time moving forward and progressing with the rest of the nation. 

My mother grew up in the old South. When she was a little girl she remembers having to use colored bathrooms and drink from colored fountains. She can recall the necessity of having to speak to whites as she walked home from school. She even got sub par grades in college because of racist professors, and had to take a job cleaning the houses of whites to earn money. Whites who treated her horribly, and had no regard for her safety, and general etiquette. She even told me that when she would go to get new shoes she was unable to try them on, and even had to bring traced outlines of her feet to give to the store clerk, for fear of tainting shoes that some white person may have wanted to buy. 

This is the story of many of my family members. In certain parts of this country these traditions may have been stricken down by law, but the mental state of the "old guard" have permeated others and been passed down in not so formal ways. We can still see traces of this mentality in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and other areas throughout this country. These ideas of hierarchy and subservience need to be abandoned, and these individuals need to step forward and address their fears and concerns without trying to hold this nation back from what it rightfully needs.

I recently had the great opportunity to travel to the Civil Right Institute in Birmingham, AL. While on tour with my band we had the privilege to stop in and walk through to recount the steps of those who chose to stand up for equality and civil rights. I tell you it was astounding, humbling, and encouraging. When I remembered that these atrocities were not so long ago, my soul hurt from such a deep place, one that I cannot explain. My mind immediately recounts the times and situations when I may have been treated unfairly because of the color of my skin. I got angry. My instincts were to withdraw, seclude myself, and only involve myself in my community. Yet, I stood and realized all that I had accomplished and I was overwhelmed. Almost driven to tears.

It is a powerful and moving place to visit, no matter what your color. My band members and I walked out calmly and went to dinner. When we sat down we started to talk about our feelings and what we felt looking ahead. We are a band of African American men, 2 of Ghanaian decent. We play a mix of rock, hip-hop, funk, and soul music that bears no resemblance to the typical music played by blacks in this country. When we perform we are looked at oddly, and yet we don't feel weird. We don't see ourselves any different, but there is that inkling in the back of our minds that lets us know we are doing something a little different. Something that we are compelled to do, and something that once people get over the initial shock of who we are and what we look like, they embrace and see it for what it truly is--art.

We are a very politically aware bunch, myself being more involved than the rest, but we do keep abreast of all that's going on, even while out on the road. We even took to displaying two large posters onstage while we play; the two posters were gifts from artist Shepherd Fairey for performing at one of his studios in Los Angeles. They are two of the large Obama posters that say HOPE at the bottom of an iconic image of Barack. Mine sits in my bedroom, beautifully framed and will one day grace the walls of my home. We displayed the posters in all of the major cities we played in on tour, and the crowds responded greatly. 

Now as the drummer I have a great view of the entire audience and I must tell you that our audiences are not primarily black. An issue that we note but are not deterred by. But as men who feel that it is our time to follow our dreams we try not to allow the fact that blacks have not truly warmed to our sound to stop us from creating music that is close to our hearts. Yet as the landscape of the electorate changes and our views about what are possible in this country, I can't help but wonder what will happen in the days to come. We have traveled to all four corners of this nation and we have seen first hand that this nation is ready for change.

Barack has changed the face of our party, at least in principle, not just to the US, but to the world. Everywhere we went while on tour in Europe and the UK, people asked us if we were for Obama once they found out where we were from. They were enthusiastic and wanted our views from someone who lives in the US. They wanted to hear our outlook and wanted to discuss politics and life, interdependence and collective goal sharing, global warming and the spread of war with people who they felt were open-minded. Its amazing to me how far reaching a change can go, and how a domino effect of ideas can ripple throughout the world.

Barack Obama is my candidate and has been from day one. I knew that he would eventually run when he gave his speech at the DNC convention in 2004. I agree with him on his outlook on the world, and think that he is in an amazing position to change not just this country, but how the world interacts. The United States has fallen from its lofty perch of leading the world, to a low and dismal place of just bullying it. That has to change. Change has been the mantra of his campaign and it has resonated with the people of this country from coast to coast, north to south. He has given us the opportunity to believe that we can define ourselves by our own terms, and not the labels that others try to place on us. He has shown that you can lead with dignity, roll with the punches, and throw a few of your own. Today we as a nation have made a tremendous step forward. I hope that we do not make the same mistakes we have made in the past and take two steps backward because of fear-mongering, prejudice, racism, sexism, hatred, and bigotry.

I am so proud to be an American today. This is not the first day, but it is one of the most important. I am overwhelmed with joy, and have to be patient and know that what Dr. King was speaking about is coming to fruition. When he said "Free at Last" I believe he was speaking about being free from our fears, from our prejudices, from the grasp of hatred, or being sexist. Free from feeling like we are more different than we are similar. Free from the barriers that we place in front of ourselves from the outset that limit our progress. I believe that America has the potential to be even more free. Not through the spread of democracy, bu through the spreading of ideas and ideals. We can be more free because we want to be. 

With Barack gaining the nomination the United States as a whole has taken one step closer to that mountaintop that Dr. King spoke about so eloquently. He knew that he would not get there with us, just as Moses knew that he would not see the promise land, and sent Joshua to lead his people there. Forty plus years it took for them wandering in the desert to find their way and be lead to freedom. It's only fitting that when Barack takes the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that it will be the 45th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

I cannot wait for this general election campaign to get underway, and to go into the ballot booth to cast my vote for the first African-American President of the United States, but I must be patient. My grandmother always told me that patience is a virtue, and I know now more than ever, that "Our Time for Change has Come!"

1 comment:

Brother Spotless said...

I am interested in seeing what the "New America" will look like. As the old guard of black leaders enter retirement age, our generation of black leaders will not have lived through the civil rights era. Is that good? Is that bad?