It is momentous that on this day, during the inaugural celebration of the nation’s first black president, we celebrate civic service, volunteerism and the life, legacy and dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This occasion is important for African Americans especially, and as this is the second inauguration of President Obama, it is even more significant. But why does it mean so much to us?
Because President Obama’s first inauguration could have been his last.
In 2009, our hearts were full of hope and change; indeed, pride was pouring out of us. It was the dawn of a new day. After the pomp and circumstance, reality set in and the attacks against our first African-American president began. There was a concerted effort by many to make President Obama a one-term president. A hostile environment unlike anything we’d ever seen surfaced; fingers were thrown in his face, he was called a liar and portrayed as un-American. Still, our President remained cool, calm and collected.
Because the fact that he is the President and a black man holds significant meaning for African-Americans.
Seeing a black man running the country, seeing his black wife and his black daughters at The White House means something because they look like us in a place and in a position we’ve never been. Noted columnist, author and host of her self-named show on MSNBC, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry impeccably explained why President Obama is so important to us during a lecture at the Walter H. Caffs Center at UC Santa Barbara in December 2011:
“I need my white liberal allies and friends to understand that Barack Obama means something to us in a way – not that he’s perfect – when we see a black body embodying the American state and particularly a body that didn’t have to be black – it means something to us. It actually means something and it is okay for it to mean something. We do not have to prove that we voted for him for reasons other than his blackness. We vote for white people all the time…. When he drags that left foot a little, it means something and….. How we feel actually matters.”
Because Barack and Michelle Obama support the troops and their families.
Our nation has been at war for more than a decade. Many service members are on their sixth or seventh deployment. Sixteen percent of military personnel are African American (Department of Defense, US Census Bureau). These service members are attached to families in our communities, but 95 percent of military families say that “the general public does not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families” (www.bluestarfam.org/Policy/Surveys/Survey_2012). First Lady Michelle Obama understands and responded with Joining Forces, an initiative to engage communities to help give service members and their families the support they have earned.
On this historic occasion and beyond, we should practice civility and compassion by giving back to all of our communities in tangible ways. In doing so, we honor our heritage and the legacies of both Dr. King and President Obama.