Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Barack Obama

Man, that has a nice ring. Almost as nice as "Former President Bush".

I can't put this all into a coherent post, so bear with me as I share a few random thoughts.

I was surprised that I got through the entire day without crying. I'm usually a regular blubberfest, but I think I expended most of my raw emotion through the campaign and his acceptance speech. Today, I mostly felt relief that it all actually happened. Although I did well up a bit when he passed the Canadian Embassy and all those Mounties were standing on the steps saluting him. Maybe it was just the thought that this was the first time in my lifetime (except for maybe a few months in '93) when Canada has had a Prime Minister who is demonstrably more conservative than his U.S. counterpart.

Somehow, this makes it real.

I tried very hard to keep an open mind about Rick Warren, but I'm sorry - he was horrible. So was the poet, Elizabeth Alexander. Not just an uninspiring poem, but a really bad reading as well. Seriously - they should have brought Maya Angelou back. She made me cry.

Joseph Lowrey, on the other hand, was awesome.

And just for the record, you moron - it was Chief Justice Justice Roberts who screwed up the Oath of Office.

The speech was great, but not quite as moving as some others, like his "A More Perfect Union" speech. I think it was because his most inspirational speeches have always been very personal, and he couldn't really do that today. Still, the emphasis on public service and the hard break with the divisive policies of the past really struck home. That, and the idea that America has "chosen hope over fear". The last election was most certainly born out of fear - fear of terrorists, fear of 'the other'. Today, Americans are equally afraid of violence and their uncertain economic future, and yet they really have chosen hope.

The best part of watching Obama step out of the armoured limo and walk proudly up Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife to the deafening cheers of the crowds, was the knowledge that both of Bush's inaugural parades were lined by protesters. Some with eggs.

The Obama daughters were unbelievable. Beautiful, happy, smiling, completely unselfconscious. Here's hoping they stay that way.

I must admit, the whole "historic moment / first black U.S. President" thing was beginning to wear on me a bit. I'm neither black nor American, so my attitude towards the whole racial aspect has largely been, "Yeah, well, it's about time". Until I read this article in the Toronto Sun of all places.

'I look at him and I see myself'
West Hill students on pilgrimage to U.S. capital

All their lives, people have been telling friends Damian Patterson and Brian Woon-A-Tai what they cannot do.

Barriers and obstacles constantly strewn in their path because they are young black males and they aren't supposed to scale the walls of their Scarborough projects.

They may have been knocked down and roughed up along the way, but the naysayers have no power over them anymore. They've stopped buying into it, these two handsome young men. Now more than ever, these West Hill high school students have a dream.

And that's why, on this Martin Luther King Day, they are in Washington, D.C., counting down the hours until they can personally witness the inauguration of their inspiration -- Barack Obama, America's first black president.

A man whose stirring motto of "Yes We Can" has become their own guiding mantra, as well.

"I look at him and I see myself," explained an excited Patterson, just hours before boarding the bus taking him and 44 other African-Canadians to the American capital. "I see someone with similar features who I can emulate. He's probably the most positive role model for someone like me."

Like Obama, Patterson is of mixed parentage: His mom is white while his father comes from Jamaica. And like the incoming president, he's being raised by his mother alone.

Woon-A-Tai can also relate to Obama's racial background and laughed when asked about his heritage. "My parents are Guyanese, my mom is Indian-native and my dad is Chinese-black. I'm a pretty big mix."

... "Obama is a clear representation of what tenacity can achieve," said Scarlett, a TV and film consultant. "That's an important lesson, particularly for young black males."

A lesson that both these grateful 18-year-olds are taking to heart.

"He accomplished the impossible," Woon-A-Tai said passionately. "He gives me the sense that everything is within our reach. I can accomplish anything if I put my mind to it."

He was once told black kids don't play hockey, but went on to become a winning goaltender for the West Hill Warriors. Now he's set his sights on going to Ryerson University next year for film studies, the first in his family to ever get beyond high school, and he's been working 40 hours a week outside of school to pay for his tuition.

Patterson has lost friends to gun violence -- "more than there should be," he said when asked how many -- and few of his pals will get their high school diplomas, but he's determined to graduate and go on to study business at Seneca College. "I want to run my own film/entertainment business with my friend over here," he said with a nod to Woon-A-Tai.

I don't know why, but for some reason hearing that sort of thing from a couple of Canadian kids really brought home to me just what "Yes We Can" really means.

Oh, Happy Day.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jennifer you old softy...but I know what you mean. After the miserable Bush years it's a shimmering sight isn't it?
    And I LOVE the example Barack is setting for black kids everywhere.
    So many poor black kids in the U.S. have been abandoned by their fathers, or have lost them to the penal system.
    So Obama is a fantastic role model and I hope it helps them stay in school and out of trouble.
    Because now mothers can tell them hey you want to be President? Go do your homework... :)