Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Tennessee Tornado: Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph's life is a story of achieving against the odds. Her first accomplishments were to stay alive and get well! Wilma Rudolph was born into a large family on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, a part of Clarksville, Tennessee; she was the 20th of 22 children! Her parents, Ed and Blanche Rudolph, were hardworking people. Mr. Rudolph worked as a railroad porter and handyman. Mrs. Rudolph did cooking, laundry and housecleaning for wealthy White families.

Wilma was born prematurely and weighed only 4.5 pounds. Because of racial segregation, she and her mother were not permitted to be cared for at the local hospital. It was for Whites only. There was only one Black doctor in their town of Clarksville, and the Rudolph's budget was tight, so Wilma's mother spent the next several years nursing Wilma through one illness after another: measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and double pneumonia. But, she had to be taken to the doctor when it was discovered that her left leg and foot were becoming weak and deformed. She was told she had polio, a crippling disease that had no cure. The doctor told Mrs. Rudolph that Wilma would never walk. But Mrs. Rudolph would not give up on Wilma. She found out that she could be treated at Meharry Hospital, the Black medical college of Fisk University in Nashville. Even though it was 50 miles away, Wilma's mother took her there twice a week for two years, until she was able to walk with the aid of a metal leg brace. Then the doctors taught Mrs. Rudolph how to do the physical therapy exercises at home. All of her brothers and sisters helped too, and they did everything to encourage her to be strong and work hard at getting well. Finally, by age 12, she could walk normally, without the crutches, brace, or corrective shoes.

In high school, she became an all-state basketball star first, setting a state record of 49 points in one game and leading the team to a state championship. She was spotted by Ed Temple, the coach for the famous Tigerbells, the women's track team at Tennessee State University, while he was refereeing a basketball game. Because Burt High School didn't have the funding for a track team, coach Temple invited Wilma to Tennessee State for a summer sports camp. By the time she was 16, she earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic track and field team and came home from the 1956 Melbourne Games with an Olympic bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay. After graduating from high school, Wilma received a full scholarship to Tennessee State. At the 1960 Rome Olympics Wilma became the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in the Olympics. She won the 100-meter dash (tying the world record but it was wind aided), broke the Olympic record in the 200-meter dash, and she combined with Tennessee State teammates Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams and Barbara Jones to win the 400-meter relay in 44.5 seconds, setting a world record. This achievement led her to become one of the most celebrated female athletes of all time. The Italians nicknamed her "La Gazzella Nera" (the Black Gazelle); to the French she was "La Perle Noire" (The Black Pearl). In addition, her celebrity caused gender barriers to be broken in previously all-male track and field events. Because of all the celebrity she received from her track career, she took a year off from her studies to make appearances and compete in international track events. Rudolph retired from track competition in 1962 after winning two races at a U.S.-Soviet meet. She returned and received a Bachelor's degree in education, graduating in 1963. She then worked as a teacher at Cobb Elementary School, coaching track at Burt High School, and as a sports commentator on national television.

When she returned from the Rome Olympics, the Tennessee Governor, "an old-fashioned segregationist," planned to head her welcome home celebration. Wilma Rudolph said she would not attend a segregated event. Her victory parade was the first racially integrated event ever held in the town. And that night, the banquet the townspeople held in her honor, was the first time in Clarksville’s history that Blacks and Whites had ever gathered together for the same event. She went on to participate in protests in the city until the segregation laws were struck down.

In 1977, Rudolph published her autobiography, Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph. That same year, NBC made a movie about her life from the book, with Rudolph as a consultant. The actor Denzel Washington, then 22 years old, portrayed Wilma's boyfriend, and he later married Pauletta Pearson whom he met on the set.

Wilma Rudolph inspired many young Black female athletes. Most notable was Florence Griffith Joyner, the next woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. Bob Kersee, husband and coach of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, said Wilma Rudolph was the greatest influence for Black women athletes that he knows. His wife went further. "She was always in my corner," said Joyner-Kersee, winner of six Olympic medals. "If I had a problem, I could call her at home. It was like talking to someone you knew for a lifetime." She was voted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1973, the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983. She was honored with the National Sports Award in 1993 and inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. Wilma Rudolph died of brain cancer at age 54 on Nov. 12, 1994 in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mama Africa Dies at 76

South African music legend, Miriam Makeba has died after taking ill in Italy following a concert. Miriam Makeba, known as “Mama Africa”, was the legendary voice of the African continent that became a symbol of the fight against apartheid in her home country of South Africa. Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932. She made an international farewell tour in 2005.

Mama Africa captured international attention as vocalist for the South African group, The Manhattan Brothers, while they toured the United States in 1959. The following year, when she wanted to return home to bury her mother, the apartheid state revoked her citizenship and later banned her music. As a result she spent 31 years in exile, living in the United States and later in Guinea.

She became the first Black African woman to receive a Grammy Award which she shared with folk singer Harry Belafonte in 1965. Two years later her fame sky-rocketed with the recording of the all-time hit “Pata Pata” (Xhosa for “touch, touch” describing a township dance) although she unknowingly signed away all royalties on the song.

Miriam Makeba returned to South Africa in the 1990s after Nelson Mandela was released from prison but it took a cash-strapped Makeba six years to find someone in the local recording industry to produce a record with her. Then she released “Homeland” which contains songs describing her joy of being back home after the many years in exile. She testified twice before the United Nations about apartheid.

Family and friends thousands of fans gathered in Johannesburg to pay their respects as she was laid to rest this past weekend. Mama’s ex-husband Hugh Masekhela dedicated a moving musical moment to her life. More fans and friends gathered in New York City at the Poisson Rouge for the “Mama Afrika: A Tribute to Miriam Makeba Concert” hosted by Harry Belafonte. Adding to the memorable night were performances by Les Nubians, Somi , Randy Weston, Art D’Luggof, Wumni, Gino Sitson, Bakithi, Robbi Kumalo, and many more.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Butler Sees a New White House

89 year-old Eugene Allen, a retired White House butler, is seen in this picture trying on his old tuxedo. Allen, who served eight presidents during a period when America's racial history was being rewritten, is marveling at the election of Barack Obama.
By Wil Haygood, LA Times – Article dated November 7, 2008

For more than three decades, Eugene Allen worked in the White House. During some of those years, harsh segregation laws lay upon the land. He trekked home every night to his wife, Helene, who kept him out of her kitchen. At the White House, he worked closer to the dirty dishes than to the Oval Office. Helene didn't care; she just beamed with pride.

President Truman called him Gene. President Ford liked to talk golf with him. He saw eight presidential administrations come and go, often working six days a week. He was there while racial history was made: Brown vs. Board of Education, the Little Rock school crisis, the 1963 March on Washington, the cities burning, the civil rights bills, the assassinations. When he started at the White House in 1952, he couldn't even use the public restrooms when he ventured back to his native Virginia.

In its long history, the White House has had a complex and vexing relationship with Black Americans. "The history is not so uneven at the lower level, in the kitchen," said Ted Sorensen, who served as counselor to President Kennedy. "In the kitchen, the folks have always been Black. Even the folks at the door -- Black."

Before Gene Allen landed his White House job, he worked as a waiter at a resort in Hot Springs, Virginia and then at a country club in Washington. He and his 86-year-old wife Helene were sitting in the living room of their Washington home. Her voice was musical, in a Lena Horne kind of way. She called him "Honey." They met at a birthday party in 1942. He was too shy to ask for her number, so she tracked his down. They married a year later. They have one son, Charles, who works as an investigator with the State Department.

In 1952, a lady told him of a job opening in the White House. "I wasn't even looking for a job," he said. "I was happy where I was working, but she told me to go on over there and meet with a guy by the name of Alonzo Fields." Fields was a maitre d', and he immediately liked Allen. Allen was offered a job as a "pantry man." He washed dishes, stocked cabinets and shined silverware. He started at $2,400 a year. There was, in time, a promotion to butler. "Shook the hand of all the presidents I ever worked for," he said. "I was there, honey," Helene said. "In the back maybe. But I shook their hands too." She was referring to White House holiday parties, Easter egg hunts.

"President Ford's birthday and my birthday were on the same day," he said. "He'd have a birthday party at the White House. Everybody would be there. And Mrs. Ford would say, 'It's Gene's birthday too!'" And so they'd sing a little ditty to the butler. And the butler, who wore a tuxedo to work every day, would blush.

"Jack Kennedy was very nice," he went on. "And so was Mrs. Kennedy." He was in the White House kitchen the day Kennedy was slain. He got an invitation to the funeral. But he volunteered for other duty: "Somebody had to be at the White House to serve everyone after they came from the funeral."

The whole family of President Carter made Helene chuckle: "They were country. And I'm talking Lillian and Rosalynn both." It came out as the highest compliment.

First Lady Nancy Reagan came looking for him in the kitchen one day. She wanted to remind him about the upcoming state dinner for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. She told him he would not be working that night. "She said, 'You and Helene are coming to the state dinner as guests of President Reagan and myself.' I'm telling you! I believe I'm the only butler to get invited to a state dinner."

Husbands and wives don't sit together at these events, and Helene was nervous about trying to make small talk with world leaders. "And my son said, 'Momma, just talk about your high school. They won't know the difference.' "The senators were all talking about the colleges and universities that they went to," she said. "I was doing as much talking as they were. "Had champagne that night," she said, looking over at her husband. He just grinned: He was the man who stacked the champagne at the White House. Gene Allen was promoted to maitre d' in 1980. He left the White House in 1986, after 34 years. President Reagan wrote him a sweet note. Nancy Reagan hugged him tight.

Interviewed at their home last week, a couple days before the election, Gene and Helene speculated about what it would mean if a Black man were elected president. "Just imagine," she said. It'd be really something," he said. "We're pretty much past the going-out stage," she said. "But you never know. If he gets in there, it'd sure be nice to go over there again." They talked about praying to help Barack Obama get to the White House. They'd go vote together. She'd lean on her cane with one hand, and him with the other, while walking down to the precinct. And she'd get supper going afterward. They went over their Election Day plans more than once. "Imagine," she said. "That's right," he said.

On Monday, November 3, one day before Election Day, Helene had a doctor's appointment. Gene woke and nudged her once, then again. He shuffled around to her side of the bed. He nudged Helene again. He was all alone. "I woke up and my wife didn't," he said later.

Some friends and family members rushed over. He wanted to make coffee. They had to shoo the butler out of the kitchen. The lady he married 65 years ago will be buried today. The butler cast his vote for Obama on Tuesday. He so missed telling his Helene about the Black man bound for the Oval Office.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teen Lives 4 months Without a Heart

Last spring 14 year-old D'Zhana Simmons and her parents learned she had an enlarged heart that was too weak to sufficiently pump blood. They traveled from their home in Clinton, South Carolina to Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami for a heart transplant. But her new heart didn't work properly and could have ruptured so surgeons removed it two days later. And they did something unusual: They replaced the heart with a pair of artificial pumping devices that kept blood flowing through her body until she could have a second transplant. D’Zhana lived for 118 days without a heart. Since July, she's had two heart transplants and survived with artificial heart pumps — but no heart — for four months between the transplants.

The pumps, ventricular assist devices, are typically used with a heart still in place to help the chambers circulate blood. With D'Zhana's heart removed, doctors at Holtz Children's Hospital crafted substitute heart chambers using a fabric and connected these to the two pumps. Although artificial hearts have been approved for adults, none has been federally approved for use in children. That's because it's rarer for them to have these life-threatening conditions, so companies don't invest as much into technology that could help them.

During the almost four months between her two transplants, D'Zhana wasn't able to breathe on her own half the time. She also had kidney and liver failure and gastrointestinal bleeding. Taking a short stroll — when she felt up for it — required the help of four people, at least one of whom would steer the photocopier-sized machine that was the external part of the pumping devices.

D'Zhana said now she's grateful for small things: She'll see her five siblings soon, and she can spend time outdoors. Doctors say she'll be able to do most things that teens do, like attending school and going out with friends. She will be on lifelong medication to keep her body from rejecting the donated heart, and there's a 50-50 chance she'll need another transplant before she turns 30. For now, though, D'Zhana is looking forward to celebrating another milestone. On Saturday, she turns 15 and plans to spend the day riding in a boat off Miami's coast. She was released Wednesday from the hospital.

Griffey Becomes American Public Diplomacy Envoy

Ken Griffey Jr. has joined a new team. He was introduced Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the newest American Public Diplomacy Envoy. Griffey is set to make his first baseball-related trip for the State Department to Panama in January. He will represent the “values of the United States, not the government of the United States,” Rice said. As an unofficial ambassador, Rice said Griffey will travel overseas to "talk to young people and to spark their interest in America and in our culture."

Griffey said he was eager to get going. He said he didn’t really have to think about it when Secretary Rice called. He loved the idea of reaching out to young children about our culture and also about baseball.

Once ridiculed by baseball's old guard for doing things like wearing his hat backward, blowing bubblegum bubbles and endorsing video games, “The Kid” outgrew all of that to become not only an elder statesman of the sport but of the entire country. Ken Griffey Jr. turns 39 this week. He is sixth on the career home run list with 611. He played for Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox last season, and later filed for free agency. He joined former baseball star Cal Ripken Jr., figure skater Michelle Kwan and actress Fran Drescher as envoys.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

1st Black Attorney General? President-elect Obama Offers Eric Holder Cabinet Spot

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has conditionally offered Eric Holder the job as attorney general and the former top Clinton administration official has accepted. Before the offer becomes official, Obama's team wants to determine if Holder could win Senate confirmation with broad bipartisan support and clean up a Justice Department wracked by scandals.

Eric Holder, the deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, has emerged as the top candidate for the job as the nation's top law enforcement and legal officer. As attorney general, Holder would play a key role in setting policy on prosecuting terrorism and crime cases while protecting civil liberties.

Justice Department officials said Holder, who served as a former prosecutor who handled corruption cases, a local judge and then the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., was generally respected, admired and well regarded by career employees. Along with Caroline Kennedy and Jim Johnson, he served on Obama's vice presidential selection committee and has been a senior legal adviser for Obama's presidential campaign.

Holder was born in 1951 in The Bronx, New York, to parents who emigrated from Barbados. He grew up in Queens and was educated at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and attended Columbia University, where he earned a B.A. in 1973 and a J.D. in 1976. He was then appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Holder served as Acting Attorney General under President George W. Bush for several weeks until the Senate confirmed Bush's nominee, John Ashcroft.

If his nomination is approved by the U.S. Senate, he will be the first Black person to head the Justice Department. Holder is married to Sharon Malone, an obstetrician; the couple has three children.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The First Grandma

The future first lady, Michelle Obama, is bringing her mother along when they move into the White House. Marian Robinson has had a major role in the Obama household.

The new “first grandma’s” main job during President-elect Barack Obama's two-year-long campaign for the presidency was to make sure the Obamas' young daughters, Malia and Sasha, were taken care of (upholding family rules - 8:30 p.m. bedtime, healthy food, daily schedules) while mom and dad were on the campaign trail. Barack Obama credited his mother-in-law with helping to make the family survive his transition to national politics.

Fraser and Marian Robinson raised Michelle and her brother Craig on the South Side of Chicago. Fraser died shortly before Barack and Michelle were married.

At the Democratic National Convention this year, Michelle said, "My mother's love has always been the sustaining force for our family. One of my greatest joys is seeing her integrity, her compassion and her intelligence reflected in my daughters."

Michelle Obama convinced her mother to come to Washington with the family to help keep the kids grounded while in the White House. Grandma will be coming to Washington.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Black Super Hero: Djimon Hounsou

Djimon Hounsou is the voice of the Marvel Comics super hero, The Black Panther, an animated series which is slated to premiere in 2009. The series will be adapted directly from the first six issues of the Marvel Comic (issues #1 - #6, “Who Is The Black Panther”).

The movie is the result of a partnership between BET and Marvel Animation. It’s a good thing for people to have a Super Hero they can identify with. The Black Panther is a powerful force for good, and he is also a respected world leader who takes pride in his heritage. He embodies the past and future of his culture, demonstrating the endless possibilities of Black people that are truly free.

The Black Panther was a superhero who first appeared in Marvel's Fantastic Four Vol. 1, #52 in 1966. He was the first prominent Black superhero in comic history and the first to get his own comic book. The title "Black Panther" is a rank of chieftain of the Wakandan Panther Clan. As chieftain, the Panther is entitled to eat a special heart-shaped herb, as well as his mystical connection with the Wakandan Panther god, that grants him superhumanly senses (especially eyesight, night vision, and sense of smell) and increases his strength, speed, stamina, and agility. He is a genius in physics and advanced technology, and is a brilliant inventor. His senses are so powerful that he can pick up a prey's scent and memorize tens of thousands of individual ones.

I am not into comic book heroes, but maybe this will change my mind.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Michelle Obama Visits Washington Private Schools

Michelle Obama, the soon-to-be first lady, visited at least two well-known private schools Monday as she and President-elect Obama prepare to move their two young daughters to the White House in January. She toured Georgetown Day School in the morning and Sidwell Friends School, which Chelsea Clinton attended, in the afternoon. In between, she spent about two hours visiting the residential portion of the White House with first lady Laura Bush while their husbands met privately in the Oval Office. It is not clear whether the Obamas will look at other schools, and their staff provided no details.

Ten-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha now attend a private school in Chicago. Sasha will be the youngest White House resident since the Kennedy administration and Washington is full of speculation about where they will attend school, how much they will appear in public, and other details.

One student at Georgetown Day said she hoped the Obama girls would attend there. "It's really our turn," she said, noting that Sidwell Friends had been the presidential family's choice in the past. Another Georgetown Day student said having the Obama girls as classmates would give him "bragging rights" with his friends. Georgetown Day, founded in 1945, was an early pioneer in integration and prides itself on its diversity. The school's Web site says about 35 percent of its estimated 1,000 students are of color.

About four hours later, Michelle Obama arrived at Sidwell Friends. Students gathered outside the private Quaker school and waited near the door with their cell phones, hoping to take pictures and possibly shake her hand. One 15 year-old student said his older brother was a student at Sidwell Friends when Chelsea Clinton attended. President Bill Clinton would go to PTA meetings and other events, he said.

Another private school, the Maret School, would not comment on whether Michelle Obama planned to visit, citing the school's policy of protecting families' privacy. Reporters and TV crews had camped out at Georgetown Day, Sidwell Friends and the Maret School.

There are some public schools in the District of Columbia that the Obamas could consider, including a few in affluent northwest Washington that have been recognized nationally as Blue Ribbon Schools.

Obamas Arrives for White House Tour & Talks

President-elect Barack Obama and President George W. Bush met in the Oval Office Monday to begin the historic shifting of power to a new administration. Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived at the White House early with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush waiting for them. The couples enjoyed a warm greeting, with smiles and handshakes then the two couples entered the Diplomatic Reception Room.

The president-elect and president strolled along the Colonnade and waved for the cameras while their wives began a meeting of their own. The president and the president-elect then headed into the Oval Office to talk about the future of the country. It was the president-elect's first visit to the White House since his landslide election victory — and his first visit ever to the Oval Office.

Their arrival had the look of a foreign head-of-state state visit. Upon arrival in Washington, Obama climbed into a black limousine with tinted windows, instead of his normal SUV; the limo looked just like the one that the president rides in, without the seal or flags. The entire motorcade was upgraded from campaign mode to presidential-level, with a second identical decoy limousine, a black haz-mat truck, a communications truck and the counter-assault team hanging out the back of an SUV.

Mrs. Bush was to give Mrs. Obama a tour of the first family's living quarters, including the bedrooms used by children of past presidents. The first lady and future first lady were expected to talk about living in one of the world's most famous building, from family life to the help provided by executive staff.

Unlike the incoming president, Bush knew his way around the Oval Office when he was elected in 2000 — his father had been president. Still, like many before them, President Clinton and President-elect Bush had their own private meeting, keeping up a tradition that temporarily puts the presidency above politics. The president-elect has made clear to the people of the United States and those watching around the world that there is only one president at a time and that's Bush. Obama is in the transition to power but does not assume the presidency until Jan. 20.

A Black man moving into the White House. Can you imagine what the people who fought in the Civil War would be thinking? Can you imagine what the slaves who built the White House would be thinking?

Friday, November 7, 2008

“Skin”: Shows the Dilemma that Apartheid Brings One Family

Skin is a story that begins in South Africa in 1955. Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) was born to two White Afrikaner parents in rural South Africa. But a genetic throwback causes her skin to be dark and her hair tightly curled. The government’s rigid apartheid system was faced with a serious dilemma. Should Sandra be classified as White or Black? For Sandra and her family, the complications ran far deeper.

Skin follows Sandra as she grows up in a society where color decides everything. She is granted admission to an all-White school, but suffers daily torment from her classmates. Her father is no more liberal than any other rural Afrikaner of his time; he can barely accept his daughter’s dark features, let alone the neighbors’ constant gossip. Even after tests establish that he is in fact Sandra’s biological father, the plain fact of her difference complicates life. Only her mother offers real emotional support, but it comes at a great price to both mother and daughter.

As Sandra grows up and falls in love with a Black man, Okonedo reveals the full spectrum of her character: the childhood hurt, the uncertain identities and, in time, her pride as an African woman.

World Hopes for a 'Less Arrogant America'

Around the world, large crowds packed outdoor plazas and pubs to await U.S. elections results Tuesday, many inspired by Barack Obama's promise of change and a sense of relief that — no matter who wins — the White House is changing hands. As millions of U.S. voters decided who would be their next leader, the world was abuzz with the sense of bearing witness to a moment of history that would echo well beyond American borders.

"America is electing a new president, but for the Germans, for Europeans, it is electing the next world leader," said the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. In Germany, where more than 200,000 people flocked to see Obama this summer during a trip to the Middle East and Europe, the election dominated television ticker crawls, newspaper headlines and Web sites.

In Kenya, Obama's ancestral homeland, the atmosphere was electric with pride and excitement as people flocked to all-night parties to watch election results roll in. Kenyans believe an Obama victory wouldn't change their lives much, but that hasn't stopped them from splashing his picture on minibuses and selling T-shirts with his name and likeness. Kenyans gathered around radios and TV sets Tuesday night as the results came in.

The Irish village of Moneygall was also trying to claim Obama as a favorite son — based on research that concluded the candidate's great-great-great grandfather lived there before emigrating to the United States. The entertainment at Moneygall's Hayes Bar included a local band called Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys that has been winning air time with its rousing folk song "There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama."

London Mayor Boris Johnson — a Conservative — was rooting for the liberal Obama. "For those who have become disenchanted with America — including many Americans — (Obama) offers the hope of re-igniting the love affair," he said. In Paris, among the festivities planned was a "Goodbye George" party to bid farewell to Bush. A Paris bank tell said, "It lets America turn an important page in its history."

Obama-mania was evident not only across Europe but also in much of the Islamic world, where Muslims expressed hope that the Democrat would seek compromise rather than confrontation. Worldwide, most Muslims believe the Bush administration alienated Muslims by mistreating prisoners at its detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

In the Japanese coastal town of Obama — which translates as "little beach" — images of President-elect Obama adorned banners along a main shopping street, and preparations for a victory party were in full swing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Victory Sets Off Jubilation

From Harlem, to Atlanta (where the Martin Luther King Jr. was born), to Oakland, Americans Black, White, Brown, Yellow and Red celebrated President Elect Barack Obama's victory with tears, the honking of horns, screams of joy, arms lifted skyward — and memories of civil rights struggles past.

An estimated 100,000 people who had crowded into Grant Park in Chicago to greet President-elect Obama erupted in cheers and jubilantly waved American flags as TV news announced he had been elected the first Black president. The crowd included Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Kerry Washington and Jesse Jackson who had tears streaming down his face.

Gatherings in churches and homes spilled outdoors, with people dancing in the streets. In Harlem, the roar of thousands of people gathered in a plaza near the legendary Apollo Theater could be heard blocks away. On the other side of the nation, in Oakland, traffic stopped in Jack London Square as celebrating drivers honked and crowds took to the streets, dancing to the music of a live band.

In the nation's capital, hundreds of residents spilled into the streets near the White House. Along U Street, once known as America's Black Broadway for its thriving Black-owned shops and theaters, men stood on car roofs, waving American flags and Obama posters. Nearby, at historically Black Howard University, hundreds of students erupted in cheers, broke into song and chanted, "Yes, we did!"

Elsewhere, there were smaller, quieter celebrations. In Cleveland, Obama supporters gathered at a house party and held champagne flutes above their heads for a toast. In Tampa, cheers and applause broke out in a crowded bar as the TV called the race for Obama. The blare of cars honking outside floated through the bar's open front door.

At Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King preached, Representative John Lewis, a civil rights hero, was emotional as he took the pulpit before Obama's victory was announced. He said he was hardly able to believe that 40 years after he was left beaten and bloody on an Alabama bridge as he marched for the right for Blacks to vote, he had cast a ballot for Obama. As the news of a projected Obama victory flashed across a TV screen, men in the crowd pumped their fists and bowed their heads. Women wept as they embraced their children, and many in the crowd high-fived and raised their arms. They prayed for the president-elect before singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," regarded as the Black national anthem.

Now, when we tell my young people they can be anything they want to be, that includes president of the United States.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The 44th President of the United States

And Now We Wait

I voted early Friday week before last and went with my wife and my 20-year-old first time voter daughter the next day as they voted. We were all excited, especially my daughter. She wore her "I Voted" sticker the rest of the day. We live in a highly republican county north of Dallas, but there were a few Obama supporters in our short line. We only waited for about 15 minutes whereas places like Georgia and Florida people waited in line for at least 5 hours.

I am so proud of Black folks for dealing with whatever situation there was to vote. Whatever happens we had our say this time. And now we wait…

Never Would Have Made It Without You

Monday, November 3, 2008

Senator Obama’s Grandmother Dies

After a battle with cancer, Senator Barack Obama’s 85-year-old grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham has died. It was only a little over a week ago that Senator Obama left his campaign to visit his ill grandmother in Honolulu. The Democratic candidate visited the apartment where his grandparents raised him for much of his life and spent time with his grandmother. He was correct when he said that his “Tute”, as she liked to be called, probably would not make it to see the results of the election.

After suffering from a broken hip, her health took a turn for the worse. Senator Obama has credited his grandmother for much of his success. On the eve of what could be Obama’s greatest success, we send our prayers and thoughts to him and his family.

Just remember the love of a grandmother who helped make you who you are today and know that her work and sacrifices that she put in you will never go unnoticed. I know you would have loved for her to physically be here tomorrow, but through you her spirit will live, and we will see what a great woman she was to you as you lead our nation; God willing.

I understand that she played a major part in your life. It could not have been easy for a White woman to raise a Black child during that time in our history. I am so happy that you were able to spend time with her before she passed.

Remember weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. We pray that you and your family will have peace and strength that can only come from God.

You have our deepest sympathy and may God continue to bless, strengthen and comfort you.

Trick or Treat Season for Tricking Voters

In the hours before every Election Day comes a blitz of dirty tricks — confusing e-mails, disturbing phone calls and insinuating fliers left on doorsteps during the night. The intent is to keep folks from voting or to confuse them, usually through intimidation or misinformation. But in this presidential race, in which a Black man leads most polls, some of the deceit has a decidedly racist bent.

Complaints have surfaced in predominantly Black neighborhoods of Philadelphia where fliers have circulated, warning voters they could be arrested at the polls if they had unpaid parking tickets or if they had criminal convictions. Over the weekend in Virginia, bogus fliers with an authentic-looking commonwealth seal said fears of high voter turnout had prompted election officials to hold two elections — one on Tuesday for Republicans and another on Wednesday for Democrats. In New Mexico, two Hispanic women filed a lawsuit last week claiming they were harassed by a private investigator working for a Republican lawyer who came to their homes and threatened to call immigration authorities, even though they are U.S. citizens. In Pennsylvania, e-mails appeared linking Senator Barack Obama to the Holocaust. "Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, Nov. 4," said the electronic message, paid for by an entity calling itself the Republican Federal Committee. "Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake."

The Obama campaign has signed up millions of new voters for this presidential race. In Ohio alone, some 600,000 have submitted new voter registration cards. Across the country, many of these first-time voters are young and strong Obama supporters. Many are also Black and Brown. In Nevada, for example, Latino voters said they had received calls from people describing themselves as Obama volunteers, urging them to cast their ballot over the phone.

Other reports of intimidation efforts in the hotly contested state of Pennsylvania include leaflets taped to picnic benches at Drexel University, warning students that police would be at the polls on Tuesday to arrest would-be voters with prior criminal offenses. In a Jewish neighborhood fliers were recently left claiming Senator Obama was more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israel, and showed a photograph of him speaking in Germany. It showed up between the screen door and the front door in the middle of the night.

Trying to mislead voters is nothing new. It all happens around this time when there's too much other stuff going on in the campaigns, and it doesn't get investigated. In 2004, automated phone calls in the final days leading to the federal election wrongly warned voters they would not be allowed to vote without a photo ID. In Colorado and Virginia, people reported receiving calls that told them their registrations had expired and they would be arrested if they showed up to vote. In Milwaukee, fliers went up advising people "if you've already voted in any election this year, you can't vote in the presidential election." In Pennsylvania, a letter bearing what appeared to be the McCandless Township seal falsely proclaimed that in order to cut long voting lines, Republicans would cast ballots on Nov. 2 and Democrats would vote on Nov. 3.

The ACLU's Voting Rights Project said they have never seen "an election where there was more interest and more voter turnout, and more efforts to suppress registration and turnout. And that has a real impact on minorities." Activist groups say it is this fresh crop of voters that makes some Republicans very nervous. And they say they expect the dirty tricks to get dirtier in final hours before Tuesday.

Such tactics are common, and are often impossible to trace. Robo-calls, in which automated, bogus phone messages are sent over and over, are very hard to trace to their source. E-mails fall into the same category. The calls were reported to Election Protection, a nonprofit advocacy group that runs a hot line for election troubles. The organization does not know who orchestrated them. "The Voting Rights Act makes it a crime to misled and intimidate voters. "If you can find out who's doing it, those people should be prosecuted. But sometimes it's just difficult to know who's doing what”, they say.

That is the kind of people that we have running the country. They stole the presidential election in 2000 and 2004 by dirty tricks. And it is not going to be easy to unseat people who will do anything to win. We know that we need a change -- tomorrow night we will know if the people have risen up enough to overthrow the undercover “oppressors”.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Witnessing History: Three Generations

The World Hopes for Its First President

The world has never watched any vote, in any nation, so closely. In country after country, polls show record-high fascination with the outcome of the U.S. elections this Tuesday. The Voice of America, which broadcasts in 45 languages to a worldwide audience of 134 million, is seeing "unprecedented interest. Indonesians and Kenyans, are of course fascinated and somewhat astonished by the fact that Barack Obama, a man with ties to both places, should be the front runner. Europe is thrilled by the prospect that whatever happens this week it will mean the end of George W. Bush. It's very clear who they are interested in: Barack Obama.

Senator Obama goes into Election Day with a steady lead in U.S. polls, averaging about 50 percent to 44 percent for McCain, but he was headed for a landslide around the world, topping polls in virtually every nation often by strong margins: 70 percent in Germany, 75 percent in China and so on. Somewhere along the road to the White House, Obama became the world's candidate—a reminder that for all the talk of America's decline, for all the hatred of Bush, the rest of the world still looks upon the United States as a land of hope and opportunity. The Obama story is what makes America magical.

Outside of the United States, most people see Senator Obama as a 21st-century man with whom the whole world can identify versus an old cold-warrior out of synch with the complex political and economic crises of our age. If at home, especially as the election neared its end, Obama seemed to be playing down his Blackness, his intellect, and his progressive ideas, these were the qualities that drew the rest of the world to him. Asia was trying to claim Obama for his Indonesian childhood, Africa for his Kenyan father, and the Middle East for his middle name.

Once upon a time, John McCain, too, was seen as part of the post-Bush American reformation. When he ran for president in 2000 he promised wouldn't "pander" to "agents of intolerance," whose grip on U.S. politics has long perplexed and worried outsiders. When in late August McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate in a bid for support from conservative evangelicals, his global luster quickly faded.

Throughout Europe Polls show Obama rising in the polls since May, to the present average of 62 percent in October. In France "France for Obama" T shirts have not been able to keep up with the demand. The Portuguese-language networking sites have 293 "communities" dedicated to Obamania. In Brazil, at least eight candidates in recent elections simply borrowed Barack Obama's name and put it on the ballot instead of their own.

If Obama losses rest of the world will continue to say (only more loudly) that America is on the decline, and it will look all the smaller for having failed to redeem itself with the election of a young Black man with African and South Asian roots and a Middle Eastern middle name. They already think Americans are crazy for re-electing Bu$h.

The world caught a glimpse of their man on a sunny afternoon last July in Berlin. He stood at the base of Berlin's Siegessäule, or Victory Column, in the Tiergarten. Some 200,000 people fanned out before him, a crowd much larger than any he had drawn at home during 18 months of campaigning. "People of the world," Barack Obama said, "look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one." The world has already cast its vote, in poll after poll. In a globalized world, the U.S. president can shapes lives worldwide. So in a sense he is their president, too. Around the globe Obama has raised hopes of a progressive leader who can restore America's moral leadership.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Reggie Love: The Man Behind the Man

Reggie Love is the personal aide, or better known as “body man” in political circles, to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. The morning after the last presidential debate, Senator Barack Obama was fundraising in front of a small group of Democrats inside of Manhattan's Metropolitan Club. He spoke about the financial crisis on Wall Street and thanked the Clinton supporters who were present, before explaining how he felt at the start of the final phase of the election.

"As some of you know, I have a body guy named Reggie Love, who is very famous because he's young and good looking. You know, cooler than the candidate," he began. "But the reason I'm raising his name is that the other day, somebody said to him, 'Hey Reggie, how are you?' He said: '20 days!' And so, from here on out, any time someone asks Reggie what's going on, it's '17 days!' After two years of campaigning, that is basically our entire perspective."

The shared perspective between Barack Obama and Reggie Love is the result of an intense two-year campaign which they have experienced like buddies on a ridiculously long road trip.

Senator Obama likes to say that he lives vicariously through Love, trapped as he is inside the restraints of a presidential candidate's life. It was Love who introduced Obama to Jay-Z, loading the New York rapper's music on to an iPod which he bought as a birthday present for his boss. (Love himself spends most of every campaign flight wired into his own iPhone.) And it was Love who introduced Obama and his wife Michelle to dap (fist-bump) that Fox News suggested was a greeting between terrorists. In truth, it was a greeting between Love and the staffers and reporters who were pretending to be as cool as him.

Reggie Love is more than a body man, whose official duties are to look after the candidate's personal needs. He carries the candidate's pens, his favorite snacks and drinks, an endless supply of chewing gum, as well as numerous bottles of water. He lines up the podium before the candidate steps out, and adjusts the autocue machines to the correct height, a few inches lower than his own. In reality, there is no official job description for a body man or woman. The personal aide shadows the senator and anticipates everything he needs — and everything he does not need. He is not a bodyguard (security is provided by the Secret Service), but rather the ultimate assistant, rarely more than a body length away from the candidate.

But the official duties don't come close to capturing Reggie's close bond with Obama, who plays a role that is part boss and part big brother. At the start of Obama's day, Reggie is with him in the hotel gym or local YMCA, where they work out together. As the day rolls along, he travels with the nominee in his armored SUV, managing the phone call list and dialing the numbers. At events, he is his personal photographer and stopwatch, alerting the candidate to the need to wrap up his comments and stick to his schedule.

At 6ft 4ins, the 26-year-old Love is a standout presence on the campaign - and not just because of his bald head or his proximity to the candidate. He was a forward for the Duke Blue Devils basketball team, and played on the 2001 team that won the NCAA national championship. Love was suspended from the team in 2004 due to alcohol-related incidents, but returned and was a captain of the 2005 team. “You make mistakes and you learn from them, and you try to use them to make you a better person,” Love said. He also played wide receiver for the Duke football team, and tried out unsuccessfully with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys football teams.

He graduated in political science and public policy. A year later, he applied for an internship in Congress and landed an interview in Senator Obama's office, rising to the position of deputy political director.

Love remains the best basketball player on Team Obama, and one of a handful of the candidate's regular teammates who can dunk the ball. Back in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Love is something of a college legend. At a rally there earlier this year, Senator Obama called him on stage and led the crowd in a chant of his name.

With his prominence has come an unusual degree of public attention. People magazine named Love one of America's most eligible bachelors. Vanity Fair listed him as one of its In items. Love was featured in the ESPN documentary show "E-60" for his role on Senator Obama's campaign.

Reggie Love has his sights set on something other than being a body guy. As the campaign winds down, Love is cramming for law school exams. His goal: to return to Duke and emerge with a law degree.