It was a bitter cold night in Grant Park in downtown Chicago on November 4th, 2008, but tens of thousands of people waited in the frigid weather to hear the victory speech of our 44th President, Barack Obama. Millions of people in this nation and around the world, including myself, were glued to the television to see how he would inspire us to come together after a very contentious battle with Senator John McCain. These words, in particular, have stayed with me for almost two years, as I believe they are words that define the very essence of who our president is:
And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world -- our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down -- we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security -- we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright -- tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.
For that is the true genius of America -- that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
As I reflect upon these words and think of the furor that has erupted over the "Ground Zero Mosque" proposal, as the Chairman of The Foundation Of Ethnic Understanding, I am appalled. Am I in a dream? I can't even believe, that in this day and age, we are even discussing this. In my previous blog for Huffington Post, I expressed my dissatisfaction for the reactionary right wing's response, which opposes the very nature of our nation's values: liberty and tolerance. In this country, the fact that we still have this type of hate is disheartening, to say the least. It is like we are living in a twilight zone. As the conservatives and the right continue to preach that they are the ones who are on god's side, I am dismayed to see them behave in quite the opposite manner.
During Ramadan dinner on Friday night at the White House, President Obama's righteous stand opposing bigotry and supporting religious liberty sends a critical message to opponents of the Cordoba House Islamic Center. We must never tolerate hate and bigotry directed at any group, including Muslims. President Obama is right that we all must 'recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan.'
Yet we all have a sacred responsibility to defend the most vulnerable among us and minorities who are under attack. Not in our America will Muslims be targeted as second class citizens without the strongest and loudest protest. We welcome President Obama to this conversation. If nothing else, this president will be remembered for showing the most amazing leadership in the promotion of tolerance, love and compassion. And for that we will be forever grateful.
Follow Russell Simmons on Twitter: www.twitter.com/unclerush