While reading a previous issue of Newsweek, it mentioned that on January 19, descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington would read letters to their ancestors about Barack Obama. It made me think, What if I were to write to my grandma about Barack? What would I say to her?
My grandma wasn't an orator, but oh, could she tell great stories. She wasn't a slave, but she did work on Louisianan soil that was sharecropped by her uncle. She wasn't an author, but she birthed one. My grandma wasn't famous, but she was extraordinary, and I wanted her to know about this historic day.
This is my note to her:
We did it! We elected a black man President of the United States of America! Today, he was sworn in as the 44th President of our country.
How I wish you could experience this day with me. You grew up under the harsh realities of segregation, being legally, blatantly discriminated against, but now we've risen to this! I don't know what experiences you had to endure. I was recently thinking about how it must be for my mom. Your daughter-in-law was born 36 years after you and she grew up in segregated Louisiana, despite integration being the official law. She still clearly remembers opening Jet magazine and seeing the mutilated, bloated, unrecognizable image of Emmett Till. The first time she had the opportunity to integrate was high school, in the 1960's, despite the fact that the Brown v. Board of Education verdict had been rendered over a decade before! And yet, she still rose. What more did you experience, Grandma?
Did you think a black person would be elected president of the U.S.? Grandma, I never doubted it. Do you remember when I was determined to be the first black female president of the United States? You obviously instilled in your kids the belief that they could be anything they wanted because my parents passed that on to me. How I wish you could see this beautiful black man proving that yes, we can indeed be anything we want.
There's such camaraderie! I've only felt such closeness to my fellow Americans once, and that was immediately after September 11. When I walked around DC at that time, I felt that no matter our age, ethnicity, sex or other external measurement, we were all connected as Americans. No more quickly averted eyes. No more terse smiles. Tragedy prompted us, at least for a time, to not focus so much on the trivial, but spend a little more time connecting with one another. I'm sensing a different version of that now, but this time, it's risen out of triumph.
I know things aren't, nor will they be, perfect on this Earth. Racism still exists. Poverty, injustice and hatred are still around. But Grandma, I believe that today, things are a little bit better. The future is a little brighter. And this is what I wish you could see - this renewed sense in our country and our fellow countrymen.
Oh, I've shed tears, but I believe if you were with me, you'd shed even more. You'd rejoice with me, as would the rest of our ancestors who I'm sure would be pleased to see the progress we're making.
Grandma, it's been a long time comin' but I know a change has come!