What Obama means to me

Six Marylanders share their views on the presidential candidate and his message of change

October 12, 2008|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,Special to The Baltimore Sun

For a community advocate and businessman, a redefining of hurtful stereotypes. For a single mother, a better opportunity to educate her son - and herself. For civil rights-era survivors, a reminder of how far we have come.

Indeed, the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama symbolizes different things to different people. For many Americans, especially African-Americans, the possibility of the first black president represents a victory in the long-fought battle for equality. Less than a half-century ago, racial discrimination in education, housing, public accommodations and voting rights was the norm.

Now, 45 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently declared his dream, Obama's nomination has irrevocably transformed both American history and politics. We asked six Marylanders to share what his candidacy means, through the prism of their personal experiences.

Vicky Johnson, Gwynn Oak

Personal: : 40-year-old married mother of one

Professional: : Event planner

Barack Obama is representative of more than the first black Democratic presidential nominee.

While that feat is monumental, the condition of the lives being lived in America is at such a place of crisis that his being black is not enough. As I looked past that to see what lies further, I did find hope.

I see in him an earnest belief that there is an opportunity to bring about change - real change, not just a reshuffling. And I see his desire to implement decisive steps toward creating a difference in the lives of many Americans who believe that they have already experienced all that the American way of life will ever offer them.

Do I expect to see a metamorphosis overnight? Not at all, but it has to start somewhere, so why not here, why not now? For every shortcoming Barack Obama possesses, there is a converse truth that further engages me in hope. He is not a long-standing member of the old boys' club. He has not had the ear of the same lobbyists for years and years, gaining political favors. No man is an island, and [if he wins] I trust that the people he chooses to have around him in the running of our government will be of sound minds and led by a person of vision and determination.

Obama is the only chance we have to turn a corner and look for the horizon again before we go down for that final time. He's a life jacket.

Ruthadele Harrison, Baltimore

Personal: : 78-year-old widow

Professional: : Retired special education teacher

When I was growing up in West Baltimore in the '30s and '40s, our parents told us it was possible to do anything. But as we actually got out in the real world, we found out that we couldn't do everything because of the color of our skin.

I attended Frederick Douglass Senior High School, which was segregated at that time. One girl in my class wanted to be an airline stewardess. But in those days, there was none with black faces. Another boy wanted to be an astronaut, but people would just laugh. It just wasn't possible. There were people who graduated with me in 1947 who wanted to open stores and businesses, but where would they get the finances? The majority of people were relegated to housework.

I can remember going downtown to Lexington Street and the big department stores in the '50s. We could shop in certain ones, but we couldn't try on the clothes. We could not sit at the soda fountains at the drugstores. Even at many of the hospitals, you had to go in the back door, and the wards were segregated.

So to live through all that and actually think that a black man has been nominated for the highest office in the land - it is just marvelous. I am Republican and my grandfather knew Republicans like Theodore McKeldin. I remember the polls being in my grandmother's house and she was paid $100.

But when I watched the Democratic National Convention and Hillary Clinton yelled out Barack Obama's name as the nominee, tears just came down my eyes.

I hope young people appreciate all the people who sacrificed, all the people who went to the back door, all those who kept quiet when they wanted to say something. All the people who wanted to achieve, but were laughed at and told their dreams were not a possibility. It's possible now.

David C. Miller, Randallstown

Personal: : 40-year-old married father of three

Professional: : Chief visionary officer of the Urban Leadership Institute, a Baltimore organization that designs programs for children and families

To paraphrase Michelle Obama, the candidacy of Barack Obama is the first time I've ever felt like an American. I'd completely given up on the democratic process in this country. I became disenchanted because it felt like voters were put in a situation to choose the lesser of two evils. It seemed like a shell game, a con.

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