Barack Obama made history on August 28, 2008. He has gone where no African-American has gone before. Although we all knew he would be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, it didn’t truly hit home for me until Wednesday night when he was formally nominated. I sat on the edge of my seat, wondering if we’d have to hear delegate counts from every state. I still worried that the Hillary-ites might incite an insurrection. That Hillary Clinton might change her mind, contest the delegate counts, and decide not to move that he made the nominee by acclamation. I’ll believe it when I see it, I thought. But, something amazing happened. Hillary kept her word. And then Nancy Pelosi declared Senator Barack Obama the Democratic Party’s nominee by acclamation. I yelled and screamed for joy, as I watched people on television rejoicing and crying. A Black man could become the next President of the United States of America – a country that enslaved Blacks. A country once mired in Jim Crow, segregation, lynchings and marches for equality. A country that has made leaps and bounds in realizing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. How fitting that Barack Obama would give his acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington and his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In celebrating Obama’s historic nomination, we must still pay homage to other Black presidential hopefuls who came before him because we all rest on the shoulders of those who came before us. As political science professor and scholar Michael Eric Dyson rightfully said on CNN’s American Morning today, if there were no Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Mosley Braun, or Shirley Chisholm, there would be no Barack Obama.
Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday night did precisely what it needed to do. Amid commentator’s earlier criticisms that the Democratic convention hadn’t focused enough on “gutting” John McCain or “throwing red meat” at the Republicans, Barack Obama brought it home. He reminded us of why he decided to run for President. He made the case for why he was the better choice, and offered more than lofty intellectual ideas about change. He focused on policy reasons for change and how he – and we – will change America.
Obama hit hard without maligning McCain’s character, concern or patriotism. He rejected the partisanship and arrogance that often seeps into our very definition of patriotism – this idea that there is only one way to show how much you love your country. That only one group has a monopoly on what it is to be truly patriotic, American, or right. That patriotism is demonstrated through only one type of experience. And Obama touched on all the hot-button topics Americans debate over dinner with their family, on online forums with strangers, and on the phone with their friends including abortion, gun control, education, the economy, immigration, and gender equality. And in so doing, he did what he does best: he acknowledged our political differences while outlining our common goals. He emphasized the responsibility we all share – as individuals and collectively, emphasizing that we are our brother’s keeper and that we rise and fall together as a nation.
Some people, myself included, wondered how Obama would balance taking the high road with not being swift boated. But, Barack Obama did us proud. Barack got a little funky with it. A little gangstalicious. He spoke some fighting words as if to say, Don’t let the pedigree and celeb status fool ya. I will get all up in yo’ face Johnny Mac! If you don’t know, you betta go ask somebody!
My granny always says, “A delay is not a denial.” Dr. King said he might not get there with us. It’s been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come and Dr. King would be mighty proud!