January 20, 2009 2644 VIEWS
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Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

suleao@aol.com

 

November 2008

 

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. " Martin Luther King III

 

“Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama's running so that our children can soar"-Anonymous

 

Feeling the warmth of his Grandmother's arm upon his little shoulder, eight year old Bobby looked up and saw tears streaming from her eyes. As Juanita looked at her beloved grandson, she muttered yes my son can aim for the stars; at long last the glass ceiling has been broken. One thousand four hundred and nine miles away in Houston, Leroy James and Kevin Malcolm sat in front of the TV screen and smiled when Barack Hussein Obama finished delivering his acceptance speech. With raised glasses, they gave a toast in celebration of Obama's victory. Looking at a picture taken with his father 45 years ago during the Martin Luther King Washington DC Civil Rights march, Leroy shouted at long last the struggle was not in vain.

 

On Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 at 11.03 pm Eastern Time, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the

United States of America. By this nomination, Barack becomes the first African-American to be elected as a US President. When Obama steps into the White House on January 20th 2009, he will become the most powerful man in the world. The last black person to hold the position of the most powerful man in the world was Pharaoh Taharqo of Kush and Egypt who ruled from 690 to 664 BC. Pharaoh Taharqo's sphere of influence covered parts of Africa, Asia and Europe.

 

Coincidentally, Obama's victory occurred a couple of days after Lewis Hamilton became the first black person to win the Formula One Championship. Within a week, the glass ceiling of the most important political office in the world and one of the most thrilling sports in the world was broken.

 

Now that Obama has become the President Elect of the US, what lessons can we draw from his victory?

 

What are the implications for us? What are the challenges ahead for us? There are several things we should take note of from Obama's remarkable achievement.

 

Firstly, Obama's nomination has created a new type of role model not only for the black race, but for all mankind. However, I would like to discuss the role as it relates to the black race. One of the key problems confronting the black race in certain parts of the world, particularly in Europe and to a lesser extent America, is the lack of positive role models for young people. This is partly due to the high level of unemployment of black men in Europe and a high level of imprisonment of black men in the US, in addition to lack of opportunities available to black people. As a result, our young people often look up to musicians, celebrities and sportsmen as positive role models. Unfortunately, a number of these role models have not lived up to people's expectations.

 

A few months ago, I was at a party in London and while discussing with three kids, I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said he wanted to be footballer, the other a singer and another wanted to be rich. With Obama's recent success, people can now look up to him as a role model and dream bigger.

 

However, the challenge for all of us now is to step in and also become positive role models for our young people.

 

Secondly, the ultimate glass ceiling has now been broken. It has often been argued in the black community that there is a glass ceiling and that certain positions cannot be attained by people of color.

 

Are these claims true? To an extent, they are and to another extent, they are not. However, Obama's nomination shows that whatever these glass ceilings are, it is only a matter of time before they will be eventually smashed. As black people, we know that even the sky is not the limit, as we can dream to go beyond the skies.

 

I recently took my two young nieces to watch the High School Musical 3 movie. During the film, there was a scene in which a teacher at the EastHigh School asked the young students what they wanted to do after graduating. In response to the teacher's question, Taylor McKessie, the African American student in the film, replied by saying that she wanted to go to Yale to study and after that one day become the President of the United States. Prior to the 4th of November 2008, this dream would have looked unachievable and unreasonable. How can a black female ever expect to become the president of the USA? However, with Obama's victory, it is no longer an unachievable dream. After watching the movie, I brought this issue up with my eight year old niece and told her that she can aspire to be whatever she wants to be. She then told me that she always thought that one had to be a male before one could become president of the United States. I then told her that the tide is changing and that very soon the world will see a female President of the USA.

 

Thirdly, Barack Obama has now raised the bar for the entire black race. Racism does however still exist and barriers, whether emotional, institutional or otherwise, are in place which makes it difficult for us to fulfill our potentials. We should not use these barriers as excuses for failure or for not trying to excel.

 

One way of overcoming racism and its other forms is hard work and excelling in whatever we do. This is what we can learn from Barack. By exhibiting the Spirit of excellence, which the Almighty God placed upon him, Obama was able to overcome all the obstacles that came his way. As a result, despite opponents trying to derail him by calling him elitist, arrogant, vague, the anti-christ, terrorist, Arab, Muslim, socialist, flip flopper etc, Obama's excellence prevailed at the end of the day. Furthermore, focus was a key factor that worked in Obama's favour. He had a vision he set out to achieve and worked until he eventually got to the “Promised Land despite the many obstacles. The two key lessons to learn from this are we should aim for excellence in whatever we do and also focus on our vision whilst not being derailed by obstacles that are put in our path.

 

The fourth key point is that Obama was able to get to the White House partly due to the support that he received from the black community. The black community spoke with one voice and worked earnestly to ensure that Obama won. Initially, the black community was skeptical when Obama decided to run for the White House. Eventually, Obama won the hearts and mind of the black community and there was then no turning back. . As a result, there was an unprecedented turnout among black voters, with Obama capturing 95% of the black votes.

 

However, a major problem plaguing the black community is the lack of unity. In the US, the issue is African immigrants vs. African Americans; in Nigeria the issue is the Yoruba's vs. the Igbo's vs. the Hausa's (in various combinations). In London the issue is the African's vs. the Caribbean's or the Black immigrants vs. the Black British. In most parts of Africa, tribalism has resulted in wars, genocide etc.

 

It is time for us to forget our differences and look at the things that unite us rather than divide us. No longer should it matter whether you are Yoruba, Kikuyu, Tutsi, Igbo, African American, Jamaican, Zulu etc. United we stand, divided we fall. As blacks, we all have our roots in Africa. Let us remember the words of the great Ghanaian president Dr Kwame Nkrumah:

 

 

AFRICA IS ONE CONTINENT, ONE PEOPLE AND ONE NATION

The fifth key point is that in order to get to where he is Obama has had to climb on the shoulders of those before him. As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. It has taken the sacrifice of thousands of people who suffered beatings, insult, rejection and even death to pave the way for Obama.

 

Where would we be today if Rosa Parks stood up when asked to vacate her seat for a white passenger?

 

Where would we be today if Tommie Smith and John Carlos did not raise their hands to give the black power salute during the 1968 Olympics Award ceremony? Where would we be today if Mohammed Ali kept quiet? Where would we be today if Nelson Mandela had not stood up to the apartheid regime in South Africa? Where would we be today if Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had not sacrificed their lives in order to fight for the rights of the African Americans? Finally, where would we be today if the plaintiffs in Brown vs. Board of Education had not gone to court to challenge racial segregations in schools?

 

The sixth key point is that Obama has brought pride to the black race. For the first time in many years, a black face is on the front of the newspaper in every part of the world solely for positive reasons. The last time I can recollect a similar thing happening was in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Between these years and the years preceding 1990, most reports regarding the black race has been related to famine, wars, aids, poverty, corruption, gang violence and crime etc. Admittedly, there are a lot of issues confronting the black race, however I believe that there are other positive things relating to our culture which appear to have been under-reported in the Western press.

 

Hopefully, the rest of the world will begin to realize that something positive can come from the black race.

 

Obama has also helped to dispel the racial stereotypes of African Americans. Blacks are often stereotyped as aggressive, lazy, ugly, athletic, musically talented, strong, lacking in intelligence and organizational skills, and the list goes on. These stereotypes which are driven by ignorance still persist today. However, now that Obama has captured the spotlight, hopefully, there would be a rethink of these perceptions and eventually these should hopefully disappear.

 

The seventh key point is that Obama has proven that what matters most is not how rich one is, but the positive contribution one makes for the benefit of mankind. Unfortunately, some people in our community believe that money is an ends to a means, rather than a means to an end. In this quest for wealth, people are ready to do anything even if it affects others negatively.

 

In Africa, our leaders have looted the treasury in order to acquire wealth at the expense of the general population. Emphasis is on material possession and gain. However, a lot is to be learnt from Barack. What really matters to Obama is the positive change that he can bring to his world.

 

The eighth key point worth noting is that Obama has built bridges in order to achieve this success. He built an all inclusive campaign comprising people from all different walks of life, colour, gender and age.

 

The importance of reaching out to people who are different from us cannot be overemphasized.

 

The ninth key point is that the current presidential election revealed the importance that young people can play in championing change. By getting young people involved in his campaign, Obama was able to inject a new lease of life into the campaign process. It is very important for the older generation to realize that despite their years of experience, there are still things that can be learned from young people.

 

Does this mean that now Obama has been elected President, all the problems confronting the black race have been resolved? Does it mean that racism has ended or that the negative perception towards our race will change? Of course not. We are on a journey to a promised land; though we have come from far, we still have a future and a hope. When we look back at where we are coming from, we see progress and when we look forward to where we are going, we see victory. Let Obama's feat challenge us to overlook the obstacles we face and aim for the stars.

 

In conclusion, Obama's election marks the beginning of a glorious era for the black race. Hopefully, other doors which have been shut will now begin to open through our hard work, commitment to excellence and God's guidance. So let us remember the words of Nelson Mandela that “Obama's victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.

 

So:

*        when they tell us that we cannot be the CEO of a FTSE 100 company, we shall say YES WE CAN

*        when they tell us we cannot have a female President occupying the White House, we shall say YES WE CAN

*        when they tell us that an African country cannot win the World Cup, we shall say YES WE CAN

*        when they tell us that nothing good can come out of our children, we shall say YES WE CAN

*        when they tell us that Africa cannot rise again, we shall say YES WE CAN

*        when they tell us that we cannot have a black British Prime Minister, we shall say YES WE CAN

 

So let us all say

 

YES WE CAN; YES WE CAN; YES WE CAN

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