Reflections On A Historic Day

January 18, 2009

BENJAMIN TODD JEALOUS, PRESIDENT, NAACP

'Beginning of a new era of higher hopes'

As when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon, or Intel introduced the first microprocessor, Obama's presidency ushers in a new era of possibility.

It will not just be a great day for black people, folks with "funny names," or children of immigrants from the global south and east. It will be a great day for all people when President Barack Hussein Obama is sworn into office.

For the NAACP, and for everyone who has worked toward this moment, toward a country that finds unity in and draws strength from its diversity, this moment is to be celebrated. We celebrate the beginning of a new era of higher hopes for our country. We celebrate the beginning of a new era in which those hopes compel us to work even harder. We celebrate a victory that will place an African-American man behind the desk in the Oval Office.

The NAACP has worked successfully for 100 years to tear down the barriers of economic and political exclusion in this country. For more than half a century we have systematically attacked the exclusion of people of color from higher office.

Yet, with these accomplishments in protecting and ensuring our civil rights, there is greater work ahead still. One of our biggest challenges is addressing a human rights epidemic that is both fed by and feeds civil rights crises: over-incarceration.

As it stands, our prison systems across the country are disproportionately holding captive the promise of what could be in many of our African-American men and women. For every one African-American in the president's seat, there will be 1 million African-Americans behind bars across the country.

Our opportunity to correct the situation is now. In the times of tough choices brought on by budget crises, many public servants find the courage and consensus that were scarce just moments before.On the day of his inauguration, Barack Obama will be celebrated as the first black president - a transformative path-breaker in American politics. However, on the day after, he is simply the 44th president - ultimately bound by all the constraints and pressures imposed on every president before him. Without an irresistible force pushing for change, change will not come. We, the NAACP and all others who believe America has not yet reached the pinnacle of her greatness must work together to enable our nation's incoming president to make great change.

ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE

'Barack Obama ... makes us all visible'

Last year, while grocery shopping, I entered a discussion with an elderly neighbor of mine about President-elect Barack Obama as the first viable African-American candidate for the U.S. presidency. She told me that, for the first time in her life, she finally felt visible. The significance of her words will forever weigh on my heart and mind.

Because Barack Obama is visible, it makes us all visible.

While I was growing up, black people fought and even died to gain relevance in this country. We wanted to be seen as equals, but more so we longed to believe that this notion of equality was even possible. We had dreams about our futures and set goals for our lives, even at a time when these dreams and goals seemed impossible to attain.

I often share the story of my swearing-in when I was first elected to the U.S. Congress. For the first time in my life, I saw tears in the eyes of my father, a former sharecropper with only an elementary school education. I asked him why he was crying, and he told me that he saw in me what he could have been.

Barack Obama has broken a significant barrier for African-Americans. He is showing us all what we can be. This is a powerful concept that means different things for each of us.

For the elderly woman at the grocery store who is entering the final stretch of her life, it means a life that is finally substantiated. It means visibility of the amazing gifts that she, as a person, has contributed to the world.

For me, it becomes a motivation to continue reaching higher and higher, a motivation to continue to dream big. I am at a point in my life where I still have time to attain the dreams that I never would have imagined possible 20 years ago.

Most importantly, though, is what this historic election means to our children. I hear young people everywhere talking about Barack Obama. Children who are so young that they are still learning to read have told me about how President Obama will turn our nation around and restore progress. These young men and women are blessed to have an Obama whom they can emulate.

SHEILA DIXON, BALTIMORE MAYOR

'To revive the spirit of this great nation'

The election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States is a momentous event, one which has energized the country with a spirit of hope and change for the better. The nation has charted a new course for itself, and the time is now upon us to both celebrate, and prepare to rebuild this country, making it stronger than ever.

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