"It is impossible to develop future leaders of tomorrow without providing them with a solid historical foundation." ~ Myrlie Evers-Williams
Carefully traversing the muddy fairground track toward the stage adorned with a beautifully majestic American flag flowing from a huge crane, I could just hear Senator Evan Byah's introduction of Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama above the partisan Indianapolis crowd. To an estimated 12,000 to 20,000 who braved the drizzle and gathered at the Indiana State Fairground's this past Wednesday; Senator Bayh recalled hearing then presidential-candidate Lyndon Baines Johnson at this same location forty-four years ago to the day. Incidentally, the last time Indiana went for the Democratic nominee for president in the general election.
But the story here is not the coincidence of the appearances, its connection to the last time Indiana turned blue, or even the substance of the speech itself. It is that Senator Byah, like his parents before him, brought his nine year old twins with him. Perhaps purposefully understating the historic nature of the moment, Senator Bayh told the crowd, "To see the next Democrat to carry the state of Indiana."
While the superstitious presidential nominee himself tried to hush the crowd when they corrected his "If I become president" with chants of, "When! When! When!", it has become increasingly likely that we are witnessing true American history. Why then were there so few African-American children there?
This being my sixth time seeing Senator Obama speak, twice outside the state including his nomination speech in Denver, I realize that my perspective may be somewhat skewed. My mother encouraged my early interest in the civil rights movement and my excitement has carried over to my 11-month old daughter, her namesake, who points and yells "Bama!" whenever the senator is on television. But as excited and motivated as I believe African-Americans are to support and vote for a candidate who represents the American dream in general, and understands our community in particular, I wonder are we perhaps underselling the positive impact this historic moment could have on our children.
While 24-hour cable news shows, the internet, and web logs, discuss Senator Obama's candidacy from every angle, are we ourselves discussing it with our children in our homes? Are we appropriately linking it to the dedication and discipline of those brave soldiers of the civil rights movement? Are we holding up the senator and his wife as examples of the unlimited possibilities afforded to all who value and vigorously pursue education, work hard, and live lives of integrity and faith?
In motivational psychology this is termed a "teaching moment", an unexpected and unplanned opportunity to really connect and teach our children. While everyone can't take off work to witness history, perhaps some can volunteer and take our children along to become part of history itself. Many of us can watch the speeches and debates with our children as examples of political discourse, or cut out newspaper clippings as a family for the development of a scrapbook of pride. Finally, we can take our children to the polls with us, so that they can witness a rite of democracy, and our commitment to the principle, in person.
Much the same way violence and misogyny in music and television can promote negativity, the positive lessons of this historical campaign, if used correctly, can embed themselves in a child's psyche and influence their future. Former Senator Birch Bayh, who watched his son introduce the man likely to be the next president of the United States, understood that principle. Shouldn't our children have that same advantage?
For more information on the history of the civil rights movement, a great resource is the book Civil Rights Chronicle: The African-American Struggle for Freedom published by Legacy Publishing.