In the waning days of the presidential race, Barack Obama was met everywhere he went with enthusiastic crowds that chanted Yes we can. For some, it meant their candidate could capture the White House after a long and bitter campaign. For others, including thousands of people living in southeast Queens, Yes we can held a much deeper meaning.
For the older generation of blacks, Nov. 4, 2008, was a day that many thought they would never live to see. We can only imagine the emotions of those who came to Queens from the Deep South, those who lived through the darkest days of the Civil Rights movement.
Donovan Richards, district manager for City Councilman James Sanders, who was working Tuesday out of Obamas headquarters in Springfield Gardens, told our reporter that many of the older voters broke into tears when it was learned Obama had won the presidency.
There are, he said, people living in his district that were hosed and beaten and attacked by police dogs for standing up for rights that a younger generation now takes for granted. A lot of them were from the South, he said. They witnessed the dogs, the firehouses and the lynchings, so this was amazing for them.
It is, in fact, amazing for everyone black, white, yellow or brown, young or old. When Obama won the Democratic primary, people in both parties were still asking if America was ready to elect a black president.
The resounding answer they got means America has turned a corner. In southeast Queens, black parents can now tell their children that they can be anything they want to be without hesitation. Racism has not been eliminated from our society, but it is no longer a deciding factor. There are still more young black men in our prisons and jails than all other races combined, and housing and job discrimination are still a reality.
But America has turned a corner.
It remains to be seen whether or not Obama will become one of Americas great presidents. He faces hard times and will have to deal immediately with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
But he has already made history. He has become a living symbol of Americas triumph over its racist past and inspired a generation of young people of all colors to believe in the promise of this nation.