Today August 7th, 2014, NewsOne writer Donovan X. Ramsey posted an article on NewsOne.com with the title, “Why Can’t Obama Talk To Black Americans Like That?” My Fraternity Brother and friend, Donald Anthony Wheeler tagged me in it on a Facebook post and asked for my thoughts.
This article questioned why all of the encouragement and praise President Obama recently offered the 500 African fellows in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which was a part of the greater U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held in Washington, D.C. from August 4th – August 6th, 2014, is not extended from President Obama to Black Americans.
To the YALI fellows President Obama offers the following:
“I want to thank you for inspiring us with your talent and your motivation and your ambition,” he said, looking out to the fellows. “You’ve got great aspirations for your countries and your continent. And as you build that brighter future that you imagine, I want to make sure that the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.” Later in the speech, he added, “So the point of all of this is we believe in you. I believe in you. I believe in every one of you who are doing just extraordinary things.”
In this very frank article Mr. Ramsey supported that President Obama’s inspirational words to these African youth were “uncommon” to Black Americans, specifically when reviewing earlier messages and speeches President Obama has made to Black American audiences And, Mr. Ramsey even goes a step further to say that this encouragement made him a little bit “jealous.”
I think we all get a little bit jealous whenever someone, other than ourselves, gets a little piece of President Obama’s highly warranted attention And, even deeper, I understand where Mr. Ramsey is coming from, too. The idea that there are throngs of young, Black, youth living just outside of the White House, and all over America, but yet he creates a Young African Leaders Initiative is hard to swallow.
But, if we look at it another way, President Obama is doing what he has been fated to do, and I’m okay with his decision.
In 2013, I was a witness to President Obama’s visit to a Brooklyn, NY high school–Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), the school in which I currently teach. Just in knowing President Obama would visit the school sent an understated hysteria that resonated more like the anticipation one has when he or she is about to meet his or her hero for the first time. Ultimately, when President Obama spoke to this predominately Black (Black American, Caribbean, African and Afro-Latin@) population, he shared a very similar message of doing well and believing in the future of this post-millenial generation with all of the students in attendance. I looked in their faces as President Obama spoke and they were hanging onto his every word.
As Mr. Ramsey’s article points out, there have been instances in which critics like the Reverend Jesse Jackson and others have felt that President Obama was “talking down to Black people.” For example, Mr. Ramsey highlights President Obama’s commencement message to the Morehouse College Class of 2013–he even suggests that the President compromised the graduates’ joy and happiness on that day in his message of accountability and ridding themselves of excuses.
“We’ve got no time for excuses — not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said.
I think most of us would simply be happy to know that President Obama was “in the building” at our graduation, let alone being able to say he offered our commencement address. But, not to make light of Mr. Ramsey’s claims, President Obama did not tell this class that he believed in them. And, no–he did not offer these students a partner in America. But, he did something far greater–he showed up and mentored each of these students individually by providing them with a blueprint as to how he became the Commander-In-Chief. Of course that message would depend on the way in which the graduate was willing to receive the message.
And, President Obama’s messages and actions become even rosier for me.
I am not a fan of casting aspersions on the work that President Obama has done and is doing–I don’t suggest that Mr. Ramsey is, either. But, I am wholeheartedly in favor of speaking my truth about what I glean from how I witness, hear, and understand these works. Again, President Obama is doing what he has been fated to do–to reconnect the African Diaspora as only it can be done through America, and more specifically, through the efforts of its Black American president.
While chattel slavery affected all of the African Diaspora in severe ways, I will be brash and controversial enough to admit that Black Americans are a pretty special group to have “made it” to America even during the arduous slave trade. We are even more significant because we have survived the legacy of the other elements that have been diffused in America as a result of its involvement in chattel slavery–the peculiar institution. By virtue having “made it” to America and also by being citizens, Black Americans have also gained access, albeit limited, to the all of the resources of this country. These resources have continually been sought out by the Caribbean Black and the African. Through accessing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Kwame Nkrumah, or by aligning with the daily struggles of being Black in America through the creation of the Black Power movement by Stokely Carmichael, or by helping to shape the voice of the Harlem Renaissance like Claude McKay, America has always provided great ideas of possibility to Blacks outside of America.
President Obama is doing his job by keeping the doors open to Caribbean and African Blacks to continue this work. On the Continent of Africa, there is what is known as the “Door of No Return” but the very name of that infamous door, while it will never be obsolete, is now taking on a different meaning through what President Obama is doing and how he is encouraging Young African Leaders and also Africa’s Black American kin.
President Obama makes me proud every day because he took the chance to run for America’s presidency, and by successfully becoming America’s president, he has changed the way the world will forever view Black people and our access to the world–whether we are American or Disaporan Black.
From my vantage point, I don’t stand in competition with Blacks from around the world, but in solidarity. President Obama’s message to them is already a message I have heard and internalized long before this recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit–so, it is indeed a message to me, also.
Well written!! Bravo!!
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