Tag Archives: Barack Obama

“Full Measure of Happiness”

By Marybeth Gasman

“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

— Barack Obama, 1/20/2009

As I listened to President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, the above mentioned quote stood out more than anything else. Perhaps, when he said, “to choose our better history,” my historian ears perked up and decided to listen more closely. However, Obama had me at “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” I have been so happy to hear our new president talk about our obligation to take care of one another — to be our brother’s keeper. For too long, we as a society have been obsessed with taking care of “me” instead of caring about each “we.” The only way that all of us will have a “chance to pursue” our “full measure of happiness” is with the help of others.

How does all of this optimism apply to higher education, you might be asking? Here’s how: So often I see individuals, policies and systems preventing the success of students. In order to follow procedures, we ignore the individual. President Obama’s message reminds me of all the roadblocks that we put up for students, especially students of color, when we could just as easily create pathways to success. How many students have been slowed down, stopped in their tracks or derailed because they don’t fit our narrow definitions of success? Who defines success? How many future Barack Obamas are we failing to encourage and support? Obama admits to not being a strong student during his early years in college; it took him some time to get serious. Where would we be as a country right now if someone hadn’t seen his potential?

I don’t know about you, but I am on the look out for potential and hoping to find it every day! Please take the time and spend the energy taking care of those around you so that they can achieve their “full measure of happiness.”

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

History in Their Own Words

On account of jury duty all last week, I was not able to be on campus at Lincoln the day after the election. I was looking forward to hearing about my students’ experiences of standing in line for hours upon hours, finally voting for the first time, celebrating wildly by climbing all over the Frederick Douglass statue on campus, and being part of this historic election. When I finally returned to campus, I asked my students to put history in their own words and recount what they were feeling and thinking that day so I could share them in this space. Their narratives speak of joy, empowerment, fear, and hope for change:

 

The Atlantic bottom trembled with my ancestors chains when change came to America. I think Martin Luther King Jr. shed a tear with Jesse Jackson. Dorothy Dandridge sang with Billie Holiday “Freedom is coming tomorrow,” and Louis played his horn. I cried and celebrated. We made the change, and my grandmother’s life ran through me. November 4, 2008 was a proud moment for some, and others looked at it like a tragedy, but the majority of people wanted something different in the United States. This proud moment was not only an accomplishment for African-Americans, it was a slap in the face to white domination. I am proud to say that the White House was made multicultural on so many levels, and I will never forget the day when I looked at someone that resembled me in the white house. –Amelia Sherwood

 

Before the announcement was made that Obama won the presidential election, a wave of emotion was causing me to think and reflect on how long I was waiting in line to vote. The six hour wait and the harsh cold circled my mind like a slow carnival ride. I could not stop asking myself the question, “did my vote really count?” I glanced at my phone and started to watch television to see which candidate was leading. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath; just as I opened my eyes a huge roar emerged from outside. I swiftly turned to the television and noticed Barack Obama won. At that moment my heart began to beat faster and my body felt weak. The feeling of empowerment, self-worth, and confidence built within me to the point it released a single teardrop. The teardrop was bigger than Obama himself. It was about to change. –Carlton Wilhoit

 

When I found out that “my president is black,” I became overwhelmed with joy, but at the same time a little scared. There had been a lot of threats that I’ve heard about towards Barack Obama and I was also scared for his family. Even to this day, people are still racist and prejudiced and are very disappointed about the election. I was happy as well when I heard the news because I am an African American/Antiguan and I know my ancestors struggle and how hard they worked for “us” to be able to vote and now that we can, we have a black president! I wish they were here to witness this because it shows that “we” can do ANYTHING!! Some people stood in line for hours at a time; that showed how much the election meant to them. It’s time for a change, and I hope Obama is the one to make it happen. –Sade Dorsett

 

When I watched the election, it felt bigger than any other championship sport event I’ve ever watched. The excitement and hope I felt was amazing when watching this presidential race. At the time, I couldn’t even fathom the thought of a black president in the oval office. It just seemed unreal for a moment, then bang!!! Around 11:00PM, it was announced that president Barack Obama is the new president of the United States of America. I immediately flashed to all the problems blacks had making it in this world and how we finally have a man of color in the oval office. As a black man in America, I felt a sense of pride and spirit uplifting when we made history that amazing day. –Julian Rogers Lindsay

An Inspiration For Us All

By Elwood Watson

 

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a good friend of mine about the acceptance speech that Barack Obama delivered in Denver. We both watched the speech at different locations and commented on how Obama’s was so inspiring, emotive, sincere and downright “on the money in his message!

 

I am a generation X Black professional and he is a Generation Y professional. We are both college professors. According to those who examine birth groups, generation X encompasses those of us who were born between 1965 to 1977. Generation Y accounts for those of who were born between 1978 to 1992. At 29 years and 41 years old respectively, we are both on the upper end of our generations.

This fact aside, we both had a very emotional conversation (a positive one) on what we had witnessed. Both of us were overjoyed at the fact that an attractive, intelligent, community-conscious Black man had secured the Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States of America. Despite the fact that we both believed that we would probably see a Black person nominated for president, we thought that we would be much older when such an event would happen.  The fact that it happened while we are relatively young people was even more gratifying.

            Needless to say, such glee transformed itself across generational lines. My older siblings, all baby boomers, were elated at the prospect of a Black president. I saw a number of television programs were Black people of all ages from 15 to 92 were being  interviewed, some with tears running down their faces, many expressing their undiluted joy that something that they thought would never happen in their lifetimes. In fact, one of the most unprecedented and inspiring moments I witnessed at the Democratic Convention was when I saw Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially state “I declare Senator Barack Obama of Illinois the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.” Upon hearing this, several Black delegates, mostly elderly ones, but of varied ages broke into tears. So did I.

            While the fact that a Black man has received the endorsement of a major party, there are still some Black Americans ranging from talk show hosts, to professors, to maintenance workers to retired people who are concerned (not without total rationales) as to whether an Obama presidency will actually be a double edge sword for the Black community. Many of the individuals casted their ballots for Obama with the hope that his presidency would help bridge the nation’s racial divide are also concerned that his victory will prompt many White Americans (and perhaps some Blacks) to adopt a “well, we a have a Black man as president, we have obviously overcome” sort of mindset. This conversation is of real concern from barber and beauty shops to soul food restaurants and from academic conferences to houses of worship. The fear for some is that the problems of the Black poor and underclass will be relegated “to the wilderness” so to speak.   

            While it is clear that an Obama presidency will not change the problems that are facing a large segment of the Black community overnight, or a period of time for that matter, I am more optimistic about the fact that a biracial man who has risen from humble beginnings, was temporarily the product of a single mother who had to sporadically apply for food stamps, was largely raised by his White grandparents, decided to forego a lucrative law firm position, but rather immersed himself into the grunting and largely thankless, tedious, and at times stress-filled  job of a being a community organizer will certainly remind, indeed demand, that White America as well as Americans of all races be attuned to the fact that the problems of Black, White, Latino, poor and the economically disadvantaged of all races are real and will not be forsaken. Perhaps that is the optimist in me, but it is exactly the sort of optimistic spirit in many Black Americans that inspired a large number of us to cast our primary ballots for him. I have no doubt that the majority of us will do the same this coming November. Whether he wins or loses the presidency, there is no doubt that Barack Obama is a Black person who can serve as an inspiration for us all.         

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

              

           

 

 

 

 

Affirmative Action is Still Relevant and Needed

           

 

By Elwood Watson

       A few weeks ago, the anti-affirmative action ballot measure in Arizona that was supported by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Black conservative opportunist and hypocrite Ward Connerly failed to garner enough support to be placed on the ballot. Earlier this year, a similar referendum in Oklahoma faced a similar fate. I must admit that I was surprised, yet, gratified to see voters of the traditionally conservative states reject these disingenuous initiatives that were put forth by Connerly and his merry little band of dishonest distorters. 

         After all, there have been more than a few individuals in the Republican Party who have opposition to affirmative action, an unwritten plank of the GOP platform. What is often interesting is the fact many Republicans and others who oppose affirmative action argue is that what they want is a color-blind society. My response to this is that many of us across racial lines would like to see our nation and the world at large evolve into such a force; however, the sad reality is that we do not live in a society that resembles such a racial utopia by any standard of the imagination. While it is true that affirmative action has been instrumental in integrating many previous segregated institutions, White people have very little to be alarmed about in regards to such a policy.

In fact, many businesses and corporations have avidly adopted such inclusionary measures, realizing such a practice that makes good business sense. This was evident when many of these institutions banned together to rally in support for affirmative action which was partly upheld by the Supreme Court. Moreover, it should be well known by now that the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action are White professional women.

        Because Blacks, non-European Latinos and many women, for the most part, have not achieved relative parity with White males, the rationale for such a program still exists. In addition, affirmative action should not be seen as an entity that rewards subpar and incompetent minorities. The vast majority of Blacks who have benefitted from affirmative action are qualified individuals who are fully competent to hold the positions they hold. This is not to say that there have not been some bad apples that were not quite ripe enough; however, they were certainly outnumbered by the juicy ones bursting with flavor. Think of all the White males who were are, in some cases, incompetent in their positions but nonetheless routinely received jobs (and in some cases promotions) due to the fact that they were part of the “good ol’boy” network and had the correct plumbing. Veteran status, children of legacies, geographical location are all forms of affirmative action as well.  

As a historian, I can attest to the fact that Whites have had ample opportunities due to affirmative action. The GI Bill is a classic case in point. This bill signed into law by the U.S. Congress after World War II made it possible for millions of White American men (and a number of Black men including my father ) of modest backgrounds to attend college and become part of the American mainstream.  This program produced an entire new generation of middle- and upper-class families. Men who grew up on farms or economically depressed urban areas in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Delaware and so on were afforded the opportunity to attend colleges and universities that many would probably not have been able to attend and earned their Ph.D.’s, JD’s. MBA’s and MD’s. This was the most glaring example of affirmative action in this nation’s history. Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White provides a fascinating, much understudied history of this topic.  

         White men comprise about 40 percent of the American population, yet they represent 85 percent of tenured college faculty positions, 86 percent of partners in law firms, 90 percent of mainstream news media personalities and 96 percent of CEO’s. Such percentages have not happened without accident. Such a situation reminds me of the response that the late former first lady Claudia (Lady Bird) Johnson gave to reporters when a number of them inquired as to why her husband President Lyndon Johnson had a disproportionate number of non-Ivy League graduates in his cabinet and White House who held influential posts as opposed to the traditional Ivy-League graduates who often occupied and dominated such positions. To paraphrase Ms. Johnson, she said ‘because Lyndon and I refuse to believe that God gave out brains that unevenly.’ They were both correct. The same analogy applies to White men.

There are a sizable number of people (including some Black people) who argue that we need to refocus affirmative action in terms of class as opposed to race. While this idea is one that should be included to expand the policy, the fact is that the majority of discrimination that takes place in American society is racially based. Without affirmative action many institutions would not have desegregated and without consistent pressure would very well – no matter how politely or in no uncertain terms—close their doors to minorities and, in some cases, women.

The fact is that while we may be on the verge of electing our first Black president, the more pressing reality is that while America is a colorful society, it is far from being a color-blind society. As long as people continue to deny an individual access to something due to his or her race, gender or, in some cases, religion, then affirmative action will be a necessity. 

                       

 

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Stay The Course Or Change Directions Is The Question

By James Ewers

As Election Day approaches, we must decide whether characteristics will trump the issues of the day.  This conundrum makes for a slippery slope for some of us. Those of us that are voting age have participated in some local, state and national elections where we did not always vote for the “conventional” or for the “favored” candidate.  The same goes for some pieces of legislation.  In order for change to occur, our country’s lawmakers had to think outside of the box and in addition listen to their constituents. Title IX for women and the Voting Rights Act are just a few of the laws that were created simply because America believed that it could do better and be better.  The song does cry out, “my country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.”  Our nation’s history is filled with stories of courageous people and periods where change happened.  But of course there were people who stepped in the path of progress only to see their efforts to “stay the course” swept away in the movement of change.  Imagine for a moment that there was no Title IX.  Michele Wie, the golfer, would not have had an opportunity to compete.  Where would tennis be without the Venus and Serena Williams?  Dara Torres, the swimmer, would not have been able to compete in 5 Olympics.  Obviously there are endless examples of what can happen when you change the landscape and give people hope.  So this is what happens when you take flight on the wings of change.  The irony of change is even those who are ardently against change benefit from it.

Now in just about six weeks Americans will exercise their time-honored privilege of voting for the next president and vice president of the United States of America.  Recently, I participated in some voter registration efforts and we are indeed fortunate to live in a country where our votes actually count.  Even for the registered naysayers, they must also cast their ballots.  For the first time that I can recall, you have gender, race and age all playing out in this election.  Both major political parties are waging fierce campaigns to capture the vote.  We have seen both political conventions and watched as each candidate received a “bump” in the polls.  I have always wondered about these polls.  One day Sen.Obama is leading, and the next day he is not.  Have you ever mused about who is making these calls and who are they calling?  Have you ever been called by any polling organization?  I know that I haven’t.  I continue to sit by the telephone but I can’t get a call.  This election is absolutely about “firsts.”  Obama has the chance to become the first African American president.  Sarah Palin has the chance to become the first female vice president and John McCain has the chance to become the nation’s oldest sitting president.  These are all dynamics that will weigh mightily on the American voters.  Some will argue that a percentage of Americans will vote for Obama because he is African American, the McCain-Palin ticket because Palin is a women and McCain is a decorated war veteran.  While to some degree this is true let’s hope that the issues outweigh the characteristics of the candidates.

We know what the issues are in this important election.  Pretending that the country is in good shape only makes your imagination run wild as it just isn’t so!  Just a few days ago our government had to bail out AIG, the insurance company.  Whether you read the newspapers or watch television, you can see that America is at a cross roads and at a defining moment in its history.  To a certain extent, we are all stubborn and have a bit of pride when it comes to change as it is far simpler to keep things just the way they are.  The telling question is will the realities of the day or the pride of yesterday take over when we are in the voting booth.  Change for some is just too difficult.  They would rather stay on the same road even as it is exploding in front of them.  However for many of us we see just over the horizon change that we can believe in!

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

Virginia State Election Board’s Use of Jim Crow-like Student Residency Questionnaire Raises Voting Rights Questions

By Dr. Pamela Reed         

 The New York Timesreports that E. Randall Wertz, the county registrar of voters in Montgomery County, Va., recently issued two outrageous and confusing (at best) press releases with regard to college student voter registration.

            The first of the official missives made several patently false claims:  1) the parents of students who register and vote locally cannot claim their children as dependents; 2) students registering to vote using a local college address risk losing scholarships; and 3) such students will no longer be eligible for coverage under their parent’s health and auto insurance. 

            Coincidentally or otherwise, these official county notices went out in late August, in the midst of a highly successful voter-registration drive at Virginia Tech, the state’s largest university which boasts an enrollment of over 25,000 students (over 5,000 of whom are incoming freshmen). At that time Barack Obama supporters had registered thousands of students. 

            Keep in mind that Virginia is a major swing state that in past years has been reliably Republican; however, this year Barack Obama has made significant inroads, claiming 64 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 35 percent in the state’s Democratic primary in February.  Many political analysts even predict that Obama could actually win the state in November, which would effectively signal nothing less than a historic sea-change in the American electoral map.  So, that is the backdrop of this grossly underreported controversy that is reminiscent of Jim Crow era electoral shenanigans.            

            According to the Times, Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director of the Student Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project, indicates that her organization “registered 500,000 young voters in 2004, the majority on college campuses, and we’ve never heard of a single one who lost health insurance, scholarship or tax status because of where they registered to vote. …There’s no issue for snowbirds who live in Iowa but fly to Florida for the winter.” 

            Understandably, this has all lead to mass confusion and anxiety among students and parents alike.  It has also prompted queries from civil rights lawyers who are quick to point out that this practice is in clear contravention of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Symm v. U.S, 439 U. S. 1105 (1979) which clearly established that students can absolutely register to vote using their local college addresses, regardless of their permanent home addresses.   Jon Greenbaum, who directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, condemns the highly suspect activities, saying in the Times that ”what the state Board of Elections has on its Web site…sounds like it is discouraging students from registering at their school address.” 

            The county registrar, who blames the “mix-up” on an intern tasked with summarizing the state’s guidelines in this regard, confirms that some students have elected to withdraw their local registration, fearful that their families will be penalized economically.  The registrar claims that his office’s “clarification” is driven by his interpretation of the state’s election laws.  Which brings us to the heart of the matter:  the Virginia code with regard to college student voter registration is fuzzy, at best, while the law of the land is unequivocal:  A college student can absolutely register to vote using a local address.  There is really nothing complicated about it.  Still, Werner claims that ”we’ve asked for more guidance from the state legislature, but they haven’t wanted to deal with it.”  The obvious question here, at least in my mind, is this:  “Why ever not?”

            In response to the public outcry—and the civil rights lawyers—the Virginia State Board of Elections (VSBE) sought to “modify” and “clarify” the legal basis for the misleading communications disseminated by the Montgomery county registrar.  What did they do, you ask?  Amazingly, they have gone so far as to post on their website a “self-guided questionnaire”—that is not required, and some would even argue that it is not allowed, by law—to “assist” college students in determining their “legal” residency.  This harkening back to the very same tactics that the High Court ruled illegal almost 30 years ago when the Waller County, Texas, registrar of voters, LeRoy Symm, routinely required the students of the HBCU Prairie View A&M University to complete a residency questionnaire that is almost identical to the one on the VSBE website today—in 2008.

            What does the Obama campaign have to say about this turn of events?  Not much.  According to the New York Times, Kevin Griffis, the campaign’s state spokesperson said “the release appeared to be a good-faith effort to convey state guidelines, not a politically motivated effort to stop voting by students.”  Really?  Good faith?

            This writer begs to differ.  Obama should have a swarm of lawyers blanketing the state, serving notice that he will not sit back and allow Virginia to be the Florida or Ohio of 2008.  They should begin by demanding that the VSBE immediately pull down its confusing and perhaps illegal questionnaire.  They should also be monitoring Chesterfield County, Va., very carefully-the home of Virginia State University—where nine of 64 precincts ran out of ballots during the February Democratic primary, which has prompted an ongoing Justice Department investigation.  These voting irregularities, among others across the nation, are currently being examined by the Senate Judiciary Committee, as detailed in a Richmond Times-Dispatch report from Sept. 10.  But I digress.

            Here’s another pressing question:  Whereis the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?  Why are they not on the case in Virginia?  Are they so afraid of being accused of “race-baiting” or playing the “race card” that they will not call a spade a spade?  This is a clear violation of the voting rights of the students of Virginia Tech.  I know it.  You know it.  The state of Virginia knows it.  Barack Obama, the Harvard-trained esquire, knows it. 

            According to the VSEB website, “even the homeless may register by using the site ‘where they lay their head at night.’”  Are college students in Virginia not entitled to the same right?            

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic, and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

Obama Is Being Lifted Up by the Elders

By James Ewers

Sen. Barack Obama made reference to a preacher who made America better in his acceptance speech on Aug. 28, 2008, at the Democratic National Convention. Obama is now officially his party’s nominee to be president of the United States of America. Let’s not forget the “preacher” that Obama referred to was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., arguably the single most important figure in the civil rights movement. Certainly there could be no Barack Obama without there being a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Men like Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Edward Brooke and, yes, Jessie Jackson all had a hand in the uplifting of Barack Obama. We can never forget Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks all contributed to where Obama is today. There are countless others who played significant roles in carving out a place for all Americans in this country.

The day of Obama’s acceptance speech marked the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech.” Was it fate or coincidence? You make the call. I have said to all of my friends that never in my lifetime did I ever expect to see an African-American be this close to being president. I thought about the marches that I have participated in and the movie houses where I had to sit in the balcony simply because I was Black. All of that had to happen then so that we could get to now, seeing Obama be nominated for president. So watching Sen. Obama last week reaffirmed for me that anything is possible in America. While there are some who will tell you what you can’t do, there are others who will tell you to follow your dreams.

There have been reports circulating for months that Obama is an elitist. I find that assessment to be absolutely ludicrous. What exactly in the eyes of the naysayers makes Barack Obama an elitist? Let’s examine the facts. He was raised by a single parent who was economically challenged. His mom valued education so he graduated from college using scholarships and loans. Does graduating from college using scholarships and loans make him an elitist? He graduated from Harvard Law School and chose to work for social reform in Chicago instead of getting a high paying job with a major law firm. Does advocating for people who can’t advocate for themselves make Obama an elitist? He is articulate, persuasive and has command of the facts. Does being well spoken and giving people hope make Barack Obama an elitist? Many of us have grown tired and weary of hearing the nonfactual and puny arguments about Barack Obama being an elitist. Could it be the purveyors of such vile information suffer themselves from jealousy and envy. It can hardly be said that Obama was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He may have had a spoon but it certainly wasn’t silver. Obama knows when people are out to damage you that they will create a perception about you. The way to beat it is to simply treat everyone with dignity and respect and give 110 percent everyday in whatever your life’s work is.

Many who are against Sen. Obama have used race as the reason that they will not vote for him in November. The Internet is filled with comments from people saying that they will never, ever vote for an African-American to be president of this country. It both saddens and troubles me that in 2008 that there are those who would still use race as a wedge to divide us. I actually hurt for people who think like that, because there is no racial monopoly on intelligence. Like the board game Monopoly, if I do the right things, I, too, can have the boardwalk; I, too, can pass “go” and collect $200.00.

Being an educated African-American male today creates questions for a lot of people. Because Obama is confident, some perceive him to be arrogant. Because Obama is cool under fire, some see him as aloof or “elitist.” Said King: “I want to be judged by the content of my character and not the color of my skin.” Yet there are places in this country, the home of the brave and the land of the free, that still believe in the old way of thinking. So no matter how integral you are, no matter how articulate you are, the color of your skin still gets in the way. Will we ever become our brother’s and sister’s keeper? I still believe we can and, in fact, I know we can.

So, no matter your political affiliation, what you saw on last month was history. This story will be in textbooks and archives all over the world for generations still unborn. It will tell the story of Barack Obama, a Black man who believed that he could be president of the United States of America.

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.