May 9, 2011, 1:45 PM
My Encounter with Barack Obama
My encounter with Barack Obama was multi-facetted. It was a mental and spiritual encounter and one intense and deeply cherished brush with history. It began at a time I was deeply immersed in research and contemplation on the how and why of personal achievement; a quest that has led me through the publication of two books and two more in-the-making. It is from this vantage point that I have been following and analysing the rise of Barack Obama. This is how it all started:
It was a bright spring morning in the city that has earned the name Hotlanta. I sauntered out of my Doraville apartment to downtown Atlanta to join the throng of faithful awaiting the arrival of the American Idol. The soaring popularity of the then-Democratic candidate for the US presidential election of 2008 and his larger-than-life-profile is what led a New York Times reviewer of his book The Audacity of Hope to give him the title awarded to the winner of Americas popular TV program American Idol.
Obama was to appear at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) this Saturday morning, April 14, 2007 for a rally and I was not to be left behind in the mad rush to see this newly minted American celebrity-cum-political-genius. By the time I arrived at Georgia Tech there was already a huge crowd bustling and rocking to the rhythm of music pouring out from the flutes and drums of the Clark Atlanta Marching Band. It was a long wait before the MC for the day appeared announcing Obama's arrival but she wanted us to shout out loud showing our excitement before she would invite her guest on to the stage.
The MC left the stage treating us to some more music but this time, the sounds of Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed Delivered" played over the giant speakers. Then came the Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights activist, who was to lead us into prayers saying that Obama "seeks spiritual guidance as he wages this campaign to seek executive leadership of this nation." A daughter of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson then led the gathering into singing the US national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
At this point Obama took the stage charging the whole park with pulsating enthusiasm. "Thank you, thank you so much", he chanted, saying that it was so wonderful to have such a mammoth crowd gather to listen to him; "There is something stirring in this country"! He started by saying that the country was yearning for change. As I refocused my mind on the significance of his message to success for the individual, I noted a quote that "we do not believe that we can make a change." There lies the problem, I said to myself. Most people are not satisfied with their current condition but at the same time they do not believe that they can make a change.
As Obama continued with his eloquent oratory he emphasized the need for people to keep HOPE alive. Yes, HOPE is the eternal elixir that will keep you moving in the face of any odds. He said to an uproar of applause that "ordinary people can do extraordinary things"!
And then my mind floated to the thought of a gentleman who was born in a city called HOPE in Arkansas. He was a man who kept HOPE in him as he dreamed about becoming the President of the United Sates, in spite of such great odds as the lack of money and having to campaign against a son of the most powerful family in the world, William Jefferson Clinton became President of the United States of America. He then moved on to become one of the most popular faces on planet earth as he spreads millions of dollars helping the sick and under-privileged around the world through the Bill Clinton Foundation.
Continuing with his message of Hope, Obama advised the crowd that with HOPE they can change their challenges into opportunities. And indeed he was telling us something that he knew a lot about. When he started his bid for the Democratic Party's nomination, he was told by many people that he had a lot of good prospects as a young lawyer and a graduate of Harvard. They told him that politics is too nasty for him to get into. But Obama knows very well that no one can tell him what he should do. Indeed he has risen against the odds to become such a towering figure on the national stage. That is what it takes to claim your place in this world.
As Obama proceeded with his speech presenting his program and his plans for a new America, he kept repeating one phrase that I finally dubbed his chorus for the day: it can be done! And that word CAN is the greatest tool for anyone who wants to build a great future for themself.
At the end of the rally as the people dispersed a big crowd gathered around Obama some trying to get him to autograph their copies for his book while others like me struggled for a handshake. Indeed it was tough to get to him with his team of security personnel but I did everything with HOPE that I will have my brush with history this day. I stood on my toes and extended my hand across the group that stood in front of me all trying to get to the man. I guess he must have seen the HOPE shining in my eyes that I will surely shake hands with him, he extended his hand to reach out and I had a grab and a warm handshake with Obama! It was the perfect ending to such a great day.
Coming home in a train I met two old African American ladies with balloons and other Obama 08 paraphernalia. I wondered what must have been the motivation for them to leave their house this hot morning to come to see Obama. The only answer could be "the audacity of hope". Curious, I asked one of them "do you think obama will make it to the white house?" Her answer was short, precise and pregnant with meaning: We HOPE!
Yes, HOPE is what keeps Obama going and HOPE is the message he brought us. HOPE is what you need in your pursuit of success in life. With time hope does crystallize into faith, and with prayers even mountains will yield to the determined man who keeps on pushing with the audacity of hope.
I parted with the two old ladies and took the final part of my journey home by bus still ruminating about my encounter with Barrack Obama. His words still ringing in my ears; His concluding words were that we should "kick off our bedroom slippers and put on the marching shoes"!
And he surely has marched. Yes he marched with the spirit of those who did in Selma, Alabama, in search of the Promised Land. It sure was no easy road. There were trials and tribulations as must be expected by anyone who dreams big. But in spite of the sometimes daunting challenges that confronted the Obama campaign as epitomized by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy and Obama's own bone-headed comment about small town America and their clinging to guns and religion he never stopped marching forward. And it was in honour of his never-say-die attitude that I penned this poem and published it on his campaign website on the eve of the Democratic conclave in Denver where Obama was to be anointed as the candidate of his party:
I dare you to challenge Obama
The world's eighth wonder
Rising from Chicago, nay Kenya
He marches to coronation in mile-high Denver
The hills are Shaking
The bills all shrinking
All obstacles are collapsing
His might is so towering
The world awaits in yearning
This great awakening
The triumph of hope and aspiration
Over cynicism and trepidation
Michele's man has proved beyond doubt
That hope and faith, devout
Can surmount any hill no matter the bill.
Victory upon victory has lifted this young man to the helm of global power. And thus I was moved to tears on January 20, when "in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the eighteenth century father and the other the nineteenth century preserver of" America, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America, "a nation conceived in liberty and justice"!
This historic inaugural rounded up my following of the American Idol. It was the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who was invited again to deliver the benediction, and he did it, just like in Atlanta, with panache; for is there a better way to end the inauguration of the first African American President than with a hearty rendition of the lyrics of the Negro National Anthem.
As I told the GRTS's Famara Darboe in a recent interview, Barack Obama's rise to the highest office in the United Sates affirms my deep belief that dreams can and do become reality. His success is a fitting testimonial for all people of colour that we are no less a race. Obama faces a colossal task, coming to the helm of affairs at a most trying time. Yet, perhaps by design, he happens to bestride the world, in Shakespearean language, like a colossus. It is my ardent hope and fervent prayer that he succeeds in his challenge of re-inventing and re-packaging America to effectively resume her God-given role of leadership in global affairs.
God bless Barack Obama, and
God bless America.