Why Barack Obama Matters by Charles L. Freeman, Jr

‘THE RACE IS NOT YET WON’

Obama in Selma

President Barack Obama holds hands with Civil Rights icon John Lewis and Selma marcher Amelia Boynton Robinson as they cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on Saturday, March 7, 2015, the 50th Anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights.

Look at the photograph above and try to imagine John McCain or Mitt Romney in it instead of Barack Obama. Try to imagine the impact either man would have had in Selma, Alabama on the 50th Anniversary of one of the seminal moments in this country’s convoluted history of civil rights. The sight of an American president, any American president, at this place on this occasion would be special. But only the presence of Barack Hussein Obama as the American president on this particular occasion makes sense and truly matters.

Obama’s soaring oratory at the foot of the bridge named for a former Klu Klux Klan Grand Dragon could have been delivered by any president, but it simply wouldn’t have had the impact, meaning and historical significance if he hadn’t been the one to do so. For it is Barack Obama’s responsibility and in many ways, his burden, to be exactly who he is – the first African-American president in this nation’s history. For it is he who bears most directly the hopes and dreams of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr’s lifelong work towards equality for all. For it is Obama who symbolizes the words found in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

John McCain and Mitt Romney, along with former president George W. Bush who was in attendance on Saturday, were born into and raised in privilege. A privilege known only to a select few in America. And while that privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t grasp the enormity and importance of “Bloody Sunday” and what it meant and still means, that privilege mitigates their capacity to truly identify with those who marched, were beaten and in some instances, killed those fifty years ago. That privilege diminishes their commitment to seeing that the gains of those days aren’t further eroded by the actions of today’s Republican Congress and the US Supreme Court.

And that is why Barack Obama matters.

He matters because he gets it. He matters because he identifies with not just the privileged, but those living on the outskirts of the fullness of the American Dream as well. He matters because he knows. He matters because he understands. He matters because he appreciates those who came before him so that he can stand in front of the world and be introduced as “The President of the United States.” He matters because of his wife and daughters. He matters because of what he sees in the eyes and what he hears in the voice of John Lewis and Amelia Boynton Robinson when they look at him. He matters because if for no other reason, he presents to so many in this country who feel powerless and without a voice, the hope that they do matter. He matters because he can stand at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015 as the leader of the free world.

Barack Obama matters and don’t you ever let anyone tell you that he doesn’t.

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