What can President Obama do for Black America?

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

On a visceral level, there is a gut connection between the first African American president and Black America. Forget all that early talk of he is not black enough, he himself will be the first to tell how hard it used to be for him to flag down a taxi cab in downtown Manhattan during his brief work on high street in the early eighties. Black is Obama, and Obama is as black as Malcolm X. It is true that without an unfailing, black southern Democratic Party support during the primaries, Barack Obama 08 would have been an idea aborted or let us say, miscarried. What does Black America deserve for this support? Many black commentators have been asked this question in numerous Sunday shows, and quite as many have diplomatically punted the question hoping not to appear parochial in the spirit of inauguration unity. Well, that question is being asked in every black mind regardless and must be explored by public commentators safe from the klieg lights of television.

Black Americans will and should begin to debate their laundry list of request to the most powerful man in the world; who happens to be their own, and who owes his political rise from representing south side Chicago, to winning the democratic primary with the unfailing support from this community. This laundry list could be a general one designed to tackle overarching problems, or it could be specific. In my book, he is one down- three to go. The already accomplished task of an Obama president is inspiring the black community. There is no doubt that millions have been inspired by his success, his gravitas and wisdom. Many blacks globally have come to see themselves in light of his win as capable of ALL things. The net psychological impact of his assumption to office on black America cannot be quantified in numbers: but wait a few decades and we might as well be discussing the Obama effect in our sociology classes.

Past inspiring, Mr. Obama however during his presidency must commit himself to tackling the important areas of concerns to African Americans if he wants his name in gold. Perhaps with leaders like: Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, WEB Dubois, Malcolm X, and Booker T. Washington. I do not compose this list of black leaders of highest esteem lightly; for if ten saints are to be canonized in the African American community you can be cocksure that they will make any list. For Barack to make this top-ten list he must do far more than just winning the presidency and inspiring the community. In my estimation, he has to commit himself to working with community leaders to tackle the three most important issues of our generation of black leaders confront: not just civil rights, but economic and social parity.

While Blacks in the inner cities have had nominal partners in the White House of the past, there is no better friend, and product of the inner city than Barack himself. A graduate of Columbia University who abandoned the urban jungle of New York for the sprawling urban sides of housing projects, and abandoned steel mills of the south side Chicago in the mid eighties; Barack understands what ails the inner cities of America. He can relate to the stories of the single mother; the jobless high school drop out and the streets made unsafe by coke dealers and gang bangers. His application of common sense solutions to these problems will step away from the “I read the memo” methodology that has become the ready tact of recent White House occupants- President Clinton inclusive. As a first step, his yet to be passed stimulus plan had better focus on restoring the infrastructures of the inner cities: be it roads, community clinics and schools. It is important that the construction contracts target jobless youths in these communities through job banks and job programs in order for it to achieve the economic impact the stimulus package now in congress is designed to for.

There is no better testimony as to how a great education can transform the lives of average African Americans than Barack and his wife; hence it is imperative that Barack make a down payment for education in black communities as no other president has done. The education gap between minorities and the average American is yawning. One great way bridge this gap is to collaborate with communities and private foundations like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (or his friend Warren Buffet), to establish charter schools. These schools with government assistance can deliver education in unique ways that seeks to truly educate instead of just pushing black (and often disadvantaged) students through grade levels. Demanding accountability from students, their parents and teachers will be a veritable first step for these programs if they are to accomplish their goals like eliminating the phenomenon of one in two black males in America’s inner cities ending up as high school drop outs, and condemned to the fringes of their society. Taking away the task of education reforms from nanny institutions like the Department of Education, or the teacher’s union will be a bold strategy. It will end the cycle of suburbia white liberals making excuses for inner city black children that don’t get the tools that can take them through the unforgiving American capitalist society out there.

The most transformative effect of an Obama presidency can however be felt in the often absurd if not prejudiced judicial system; a system often stacked against the poor, minorities and immigrants that find themselves in its unfortunate throes. Police brutality, racial profiling, long prison sentences for minor crimes while white collar crimes that disembowel the economy are hardly prosecuted are one of many imbalances that the new Attorney General Eric Holder and his boss, Barack Obama will confront as African American MEN that know what it feels like to have a cop car behind you in a wealthy neighborhood just because the law man feels you have no business there irrespective of your professional success. A first step has been the appointment of the first black AG; a second for Barack will be for the FBI and the federal judicial system to become truly representative of the American populace. An FBI with less than three percent African Americans is unlikely to be sensitive to the concerns of the community; and a federal judiciary with not enough black district attorneys, prosecutors and judges is unlikely to be kind to minorities. Looking into the laws that compel unreasonable sentences that destroy rather than reform will also go a long way to correct the age long judicial injustices that has been institutionalized in the third arm of government.

Spare us the long laundry list of requests: make it these three, and forever January 20, 2009 will be written in gold as far as African Americans are concerned and the legacy of President Barack H. Obama is written. Congratulations Mr. President and God speed on this journey of improbable possibilities.

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