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November 13, 2008

My President

Patricia A. Kelly

I’ve lived a pretty long time. I was alive and conscious during the civil rights movement. In fact, during that time, my mom drove my brother and me through the South every summer to visit my grandparents.


I was brought up in a segregated world by parents who failed to tell me that it wasn’t okay to have a childhood crush on a colored boy. That’s what they were called then, or Negroes. I was educated from ninth grade on by nuns who were passionate advocates of civil rights. I thus believed that colored people were people in the same sense that caucasian people were.


I watched colored people in the South, poorly dressed, generally, their skin very dark, perhaps from working outdoors, their homes sharecroppers’ shacks. I saw the separate facilities, from schools to restrooms to water fountains to dining rooms in barbecue restaurants, if colored people were even allowed in. I never saw anything equal about them. I wondered where people got that particularly bilious shade of green paint peeling from every wall that was part of a “colored only” facility.


I rode past the place where the little girls were blown up in their church basement in Birmingham, and where the young civil rights workers were murdered and buried in the dam in Mississippi. Emmett Till, the black boy whose death may have started the really active phase of the movement, was a little before my time. The trial of his murderers, with its moments of astounding courage on the part of his mom and grandfather, is available on tape from the library.


My experience of the civil rights movement gave me both pain and inspiration. So many heroes risked their lives to make our world better, and to bring respect and fairness to people of color in this country.


I was also able to watch on television as my heroes, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others less remembered, were murdered.


I married, and my husband served in Vietnam. While I was raising babies, he was dropping bombs and being betrayed, along with the rest of our military and numerous Vietnamese allies, by our own government.


I voted for John McCain, of course. I practically know him. I had friends who were Vietnam era POWs. I know more closely than many what it took for him to be the hero that he is. I know him as a knowledgeable, experienced, independent man of character, so I wanted him to be president.


I didn’t really think much about the fact that a man of color and a woman were running. I thought we were ready for either one.


It was only after the election, after a Wednesday of reflection, that I really, viscerally got it. Caucasians in the United States of America actually voted for a person of color with a Muslim/Arab name, to be president.


I’ve been such a cynic, and no wonder, with what I’ve seen, and with so many of my hopes and dreams for the world shattered in my lifetime. Down deep, I didn’t really believe in change, or in its possibility. But, caucasians have just voted for a man of color in America.


We’re not on – what for me would be – the “safe” ground of John McCain. We’re out on a limb, having taken a risk to get real change. And we really need real change. The man we elected is incredibly intelligent, educated and focused. He said to those who did not vote for him that he will be our president, too. He said he will listen, and listen harder if we disagree. Maybe he will.


The United States of America has been transformed. If that could happen, anything could. Listen up, my fellow cynics and frightened reactionaries.


Change, and even improvement, may be possible. This moment in history is huge.


Barack Hussein Obama will soon be my president. May congratulations, best wishes and many prayers go with him and keep him safe.


I stand for his success.


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