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Commentary: Reflections On Obama

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By Rosalyn Story, KERA Commentator

Dallas, TX – The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president was cause for joy for commentator Rosalyn Story, but also for reflection.

As I watched Barack Obama's America defy all the odds on election night, I thought about my father.

My father was a common man, a steelworker born in the piney backwoods of southern Arkansas at the beginning of the first World War. It was a social milieu where daring to vote, to hope for a portion of the American dream, was to risk life and limb. In his final voting experience, my 83-year-old father went to the polls in 2004 and staked his hopes for a better country on the democrat; a good man, he thought, but a man who looked nothing like my father. Like so many African Americans of his generation, my father was used to voting for men who looked nothing like him, but took great pride in being able to vote at all. He was resigned to the notion of choosing the white man whom he thought would serve him best, and the idea of choice of color or gender, to my father, was unfathomable.

Yet, over the last year, a majority of Americans looked at the widest choices we have ever seen and chose unequivocally the one who least resembled them.

How many times over the next few days did I hear from friends, neighbors, strangers: "I can't believe it. I can't believe what we have done."

Why couldn't we believe it? We live in a country that has struggled through improbable progress in science, in medicine, in communication. What happened to cause us to so limit our dreams that the notion of a white man stepping onto the face of the moon is more likely than a black man walking into the White House and taking his rightful seat?

Somewhere along the way we forgot about that simple word - change.

Rosa Parks was a relative of mine, not a close one, she and my grandmother were cousins and friends growing up together in rural enclave of Alabama called Pine Level. I did not know her well, but my parents and I visited her a few times at her home in Detroit. Even though we never talked about her role in history, it was never lost on us for a moment that this tiny humble woman mothered a movement for civil rights by refusing her bus seat to a white man, pinned to her seat by the promise of change.

When she died, I attended her seven hour funeral in Detroit. Black funerals tend to run long, but seven hours of singing, praying, and preaching is a marathon of mourning. Still, we clung to the moment as if it were the last glimmer of light from a splendidly setting sun, forgetting about the inevitability and promise of a new morning.

That said, who among us would have thought with the slow and measured grind of the wheels of progress, that the journey from the back seat of the bus to the front seat of power might be completed in our lifetime? The 2008 election has taught me, if nothing else, that as long as we live, the improbable can become possible, and that our country, though still young, still stumbling, and prone to toddling missteps, is still growing up.

My father died a week or so after the 2004 election, the white man he chose did not win. Knowing his time was short surely darkened his disappointment. He died, never knowing that real change was on its way.

If I could have known then what I know now, I would have offered a few consoling words; Dad, you'll never believe what will happen next time.

Rosalyn Story is a freelance writer and a violinist with the Fort Worth Symphony.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.