Original post: August 3rd, 2016 14:03
As a Black man just entering his 40’s, I freely admit that there was a time when I believed certain things would not be achievable in my lifetime. I thought that we may eventually see a Black Secretary of State or Attorney General, but I never thought that I would see a Black President or Vice President in my lifetime. I realize that this sounds funny to say in 2016, but that was my reality. Even with the impact that Jesse Jackson had in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic Primaries, and the attention to our issues those campaigns ushered in, still…in the back of my mind I couldn’t see it. My basis for feeling this way was the history I had heard about and what I had seen. I was born after the Civil Rights Movement, but right in the middle of busing and changing community demographics. I was in grade school by the time crack was introduced in our neighborhoods and began to dismantle family structure in a major way. By the time I was teenager, I knew I was an endangered species with a life expectancy of 21, depending on my decisions or by my living environment. Fortunately for me, my living situation was stable and supportive by two parents who pushed their kids to excel and to get an education. I also knew that everyone didn’t have that benefit.
So I became jaded. I still am to an extent. As a fairly militant college student, I buried myself in all of the positives of my culture. I had Hip Hop music that encouraged me to stay in school and flaunted Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We had television shows that showed normal Black families and talked about being positive and striving to be anything you wanted to be…..including President of the United States. I soaked all of that in, but even with all that ammunition, I never had it in my mind that I would see a Black President in my lifetime. Maybe we would see a woman. That would have still been a victory, but no one from African descent.
Fast forward eleven years to Election Night 2008. I was thirty-three with three year old and 7 month-old daughters. As I watched the results come in, I still didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. Even though Barack Obama appeared to have a commanding lead over John McCain…that jadedness, that feeling that life experience had given me still had me questioning to the very end. “Something could still happen.” “They’re not going to let him have this.” After the commentators called the contest, my wife turned to me with tears in her eyes and said “He won!” I remember standing in the middle of my living room with my hands on my head…mouth open…trying to reconcile what just happened. What I believed would never happen in my lifetime had just taken place. I walked up the steps and went into the rooms of my two angels as they slept and stared at them. Their world would be so different than mine. Their experience would be so much richer and would be absolutely boundless.
Whatever your opinion is of President Obama’s time in office, the impact of his ascension to the highest office of the land cannot be measured. Removing politics from the equation, the Obama presidency has taken the limits off of what little Black boys and girls can accomplish in the country and the world. Recently, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to receive a Presidential nomination from a major party. Ninety-six years after women secured the right to vote, there is a chance that a woman might lead the country. Whether she wins the election or not, every little girl that wants to dream about being President now knows that it’s at least, possible.
I grew up not believing that I would see a Black President. My children have only known of a Black President during their lifetime. Now as females, they could see a woman take that office next. Regardless if you’re a Republican or Democrat, that is a powerful thing to imagine. My girls won’t know any barriers to their careers and lives. In a country that has not always been open and accessible to minorities and women, there are no strikes against them that they can’t conquer. No reason to be jaded about their prospects. How incredible is that?
Their perspective is light years away from where mine was when I was their age. I am very grateful for that.
Ahmad Ward is Vice President of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI