Climbing the Mountain

barack king lincoln

As I watched the President and the First Lady promenade down the streets of Washington, D.C. I could not help but think about how special that moment was. Not only was it the second inauguration of our nation’s first African American president, but it was also a day in which we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was probably most notable for his non-violent approach to fighting for civil rights and his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, arguably one of the greatest speeches in American history. “That one day, little black boys and little white girls will one day hold hands together…” Well today, we have a black president. Would King have had the audacity to even dream of such a thing? Today we are blessed to witness and experience it.

So then I asked myself, Would Dr. King be happy with this moment? He would definitely be happy. But would he be satisfied? Would Dr. King be satisfied with the current drop-out rates, murder rates and incarceration rates of so many young black men? Would he be satisfied with the widening of the social-economic gap between the rich and the poor? Would he be satisfied with the shrinking of the middle class? Would he be satisfied with our war in Afghanistan (the longest war in America’s history)?

Yes, America is great indeed, but if you listen to the president’s message, he clearly understands that we have not reached the proverbial mountain top. We are still climbing. We are still standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and we need to prepare a foundation for those to come.

Obama: Hope or Hype?

The 15th Amendment (1865) gave African-Americans the constitutional right to vote. But 100 years later, most African Americans, especially in the American South, were still disenfranchised.

Less than an hour earlier I had encouraged Sabrina to stay after school for a few minutes, to make sure that all of her teachers had signed her daily progress report. I told her mother that I believed a daily progress report might help Sabrina better manage her own behavior. She seemed to be getting in a lot of trouble in school and nothing we did seemed to work. She complained, like a typical 12 year old should, but she did not leave until each teacher had filled out that progress report.

I remained at work for a few more minutes and later received a ride from a coworker who was heading to Park Slope. She dropped me off just blocks away from the new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The new arena looks amazing, I can remember when they first broke ground. Now Brooklyn has one of the most fascinating structures in the entire city.  I had to stop and post a few photos on Instagram. I wasn’t alone. Dozens more would stop and capture this magnificent work of art, on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. After taking a few nice snaps I quickly retreated downstairs to catch the Manhattan bound 3 train. As soon as I boarded the train, I looked left and then right, only to see Sabrina sitting next to an empty seat, near the back of the car.

I was surprised to see her because the 3 travels to the west side of Manhattan, she and her family lives in East Harlem. “Hey Sabrina!” Her large eyes grew larger. “What are you doing on this train?” I asked.  “Shouldn’t you be on the 4 train?” “The 4 is not  not running, it’s having problems so I had to take the 3 train instead,” she replied. My next question was, “Do you know your way home from the 3 train?” She shook looked up at me, and softly shook her head.

It was a delightful  1 hour trip Uptown. She was good company, as she had so many interesting questions for me. We talked mainly about school and more specifically social studies. We even began talking about the 2012 Presidential Election.

“Mr. Toussaint, how come a president can only be elected twice? I think that’s a dumb rule.” I explained to her that that was not always the case.

“Have you ever heard of the FDR?” I asked.  “Yeah, my mom takes the FDR to work every morning,” she replied excitedly. “Well that highway was named  after  Franklin D. Roosevelt, a president who was elected four times and he was the only president to do so. He was such a great president that the American people confinued to vote for him.

He never finished his last term because he died from a disease called polio. But after FDR died the rules changed. America is the land of opportunity and wanted to make sure that we gave the people more opportunities for leadership. We did not want to become like some countries who have the same president for 20,30 or even 40 years. These leaders sometimes become out I touch and don’t allow the countries to advance. To hold power for 8 years is a pretty long time; that’s nearly a decade.

I tried my best to make explain. I can tell that it had very little effect. She still thought it was dumb to limit the presidential term to 8 years.

But deeper than her grievances towards the ratification of the twenty-second amendment was her concern about Barack Obama being unseated by Mitt Romney. In her lifetime, she had become accustomed to having a black president. She was too young to understand the Bush Era, let alone understand the possibility of Jim Crow or the need for a Civil Rights Movement. But she remembers how big of a deal it was to have a black president. And for millions of children her age, black, white, Asian or Latino, Obama is their first president. But he might be their last black one .

I asked her, do you think we will have another black president in the U.S.? Confidently, yet reluctantly she said no, with a look of slight confusion on her face. “Not with the way the world is today,” she said. At the tender age if 12, she had already made up her mind (scary thought).

Whether Obama wins tonight or not. For all of us who lived in this time, in this era and moment in American History, we can all say we were there when America elected its first black president.

Will there ever be another? Will Sabrina’s children, or children’s children, have an opportunity to see a Head of State that looks like them? How long will it be before we have a woman or Latino in the White House? Does it even matter? Some may argue that it is not about skin color, gender or heritage, that it’s about the issues. And I may respond, the fact that we may never have another, is the issue.

We finally reached  96 street.  I showed Sabrina a subway map of how far we had traveled; from Crown Heights to the Upper Westside and that we would take the cross town bus to the east side, walk a few blocks north and she would be home.