Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Hussain Obama Comes to Washington Take 1

“Mend our brokenness…God of our tears and weary years”
Barack Hussain Obama First Black President

I'm in the F-Building, Student Lounge at the College of Alameda now. And though I would have liked to be in Washington D.C this morning, there is no other place I'd rather be than here with colleagues and student friends. I arrived a little early, so I got a front row seat and ended up the official party photographer as I took one picture after another of faculty and staff standing next to the life-size poster figure of the new president of the United States.

We all rose to our feet when Obama approached the stand to take the oath of office. We smiled when he stumbled as he repeated the oath--all of us probably just as nervous as he. Obama's wife and daughters were by his side as he stood and took on this responsibility. We were there too as his short speech honored the legacy of those who preceded him.

As we stood in solidarity here in Alameda, the smallest campus in the Peralta Community College District, American flags decorated the student lounge, festive red, white and blue balloon bouquets hung near the podium where college president, Mr. Herring and Vice President of Instruction, Janette Jackson, Robert Brem, and others spoke this morning about the historic moment we were witnessing.

Community members asked questions and the political science faculty used this as an opportunity to not just answer questions but to also share their own personal journeys, many paralleling that of Obama.

These teachable moments echoed throughout the day into the early afternoon, as we watched Obama's speech a few more times after the broadcast ended at the Presidential Luncheon, George W. Bush on his last flight courtesy of the American people.

I wasn’t as attentive to the speech the first time I heard it, as I was the second and third time--yet I did feel the emotions rise in the room as those gathered at the inaugural event here connected with the audience in DC who were trying to stay warm, also expressed their joy, a joy palatable across the miles and via satellite or cyber-TV.

It is amazing how truth translates across the most disparate mediums. All is certainly one.

Here at COA there was standing room only and though there were simulcasts in the Library and in the Cafeteria, people chose to stand and remain physically close to each other rather than leave.

This event is a defining moment for our nation, and it is also a defining moment for the COA college community; it goes without saying that this is a defining moment for every American citizen and every African American citizen.

Barack Obama changes the look of America. No longer is the white man at the pinnacle of power. A black man holds the reigns.

When Obama mentioned founding fathers, I had to laugh at the mention of men, who didn’t claim Africans as citizens or equals in a nation whose creed declared life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. But he is a politician and some aspects of his speech were prepackaged and expected like the closing lines: God Bless America.

I don’t think it is any less sincere that he remembers the Founding White Fathers of this nation who have now stepped aside so that those whose ancestors built this nation, literally the White House and most if not all the monuments in the Nation’s Capital, have their turn and as the Delancey sisters would put it, "have their say."

This is a historic turning point…the 44th presidency is in the hands of a black man, a man with roots in both America and Africa, Indonesia and Hawaii, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

This inauguration falls this year the day after Martin King Day, the first black man to have a National Holiday—it is the year King would have been 80 years old. This year the national holiday is also birthday of Muhammad Ali, another man who stood on his convictions and suffered because of it—.

Another significant date is that of Obama's acceptance speech last year at the Democratize National Convention, August 28, 2008, the same date Martin King delivered his historic speech on the National Mall—I Have A Dream in 1963.

I was looking forward to hearing poet Elizabeth Alexander. I really admire her work, especially her poem for the South African woman, Sara Baartman, also know as the Venus Hottentot. Baartman's remains were finally laid to rest a few years ago, after being the property of the British Museum--her pickled genitalia. Her poem was an inspiration for Suzan Lori-Parks' play, "Venus." Visit http://www.southafrica.info/about/history/saartjie.htm

Alexander's “Praise Song for the Day” was a liturgy for those who came before and those who stood before her in that moment and those like us many miles away in American cities and elsewhere. Her words echoed those of President Obama who also called on his ancestors and those ghosts walking the halls both European and African. I wonder if white Americans think about the end of their visible access to power now that a black man is in the driver’s seat. I wonder how they feel. I wonder if the policeman who shot and killed Oscar Grant III and the other police who killed Adolph Grimes III in New Orleans, both in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin's selection and that of Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet) were other high points for me.

The COA program continued with a discussion of the BPP and a film clip on Merritt College, home of the party. Professor Sherrone Smith shared her reflections on the BPP and what she knew of the organization. She connected the formation of the Party to the migration of AA to the SF Bay, West Oakland to Harbor Homes where many of these black people, a part of the Great Migration for the War Industry. Most African American are descendants of Louisiana and Mississippi and Arkansas. She is first generation Californian, born in Berkeley. She lived on 53rd Street, right by Grove Street, now Martin Luther King Jr. Way. These families sent for their families to join them.

She then shared thoughts on Barack Obama, a bi-racial man. He identified as a black man, not bi-racial. Offspring of two races have an identity crisis; she used Mariah Cary and Halle Berry as examples of this struggle. When he messes up he’ll be black and when he does well, he’ll be bi-racial.

She’s been at Alameda since 1980. She never thought she’d see this and told her students she wouldn’t see this either. Today’s young people represent a new way of thinking and a new way of life. Her children tell her, things have changed. “They look at people in terms of who will get the job done.”

One drop of black blood made you black…pre-DNA; this was the rule of the South. Those who didn’t go to war, worked in the canneries and other industries. She said.

I loved Rev. Joseph E. Lowery benediction which combined humor and a nod to the historic precedence. He gave a nod to James Weldon Johnson and the black national anthem with a few salient quotes from the black national anthem. He said, with Obama perhaps the cliché “if you’re black get back” is now a thing of the past, and brown can stick around....

I remember when I first learned that the Walden poem was considered as our national anthem, and disregarded because he was a black man. Amazing fact…. The stone the builders have rejected has become the corner stone. Goes to show you, one has to treat everyone with decency and kindness because you never know, really, you just don’t.

I am just so happy! I am going to be flying for the next four years and then for four more. I too am America, now for real. I’m sure Langston Hughes, and Jimmy Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston and others are smiling on us. If image is everything in a campaign or a movement, then Obama’s image can do a lot for urban youth who feel disenfranchised, ignored and full of despair. It is time to get engaged and stay involved. The work has just begun, it’s just now we have a leader who is working with us not against us.

Obama stated: “We need to reaffirm the greatness of our nation and choose, hope over fear, unity of purpose over false promises—the time has come to set aside childish ways….”

I am happy. I am so happy. Today is the halfway mark for my 50th year and I will remember my 50th year’s half way mark almost as much as I remember fondly the June day when my sun returned in Gemini and I was reborn once again thankful to Helen Isaac and Fred Batin for having me.

I am going to surround myself with people who are serious and positive. Anyone who is not serious and positive will not get the time of day from me, I don’t care how attractive. I don’t have time to spend on adults who possess the faculties to continue their evolution, yet refuse. My association with such spirits undoes my progress

Life Every Voice And Sing Lyrics
Written by- James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing,
till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the
dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet
come to the place
for which our fathers died?

We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past,
till now we stand at last
where the white gleam
of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
shadowed beneath thy hand,
may we forever stand,
true to our God,
true to our native land.


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