When I was a young girl, my grandmother purchased the apartment building she’d lived in. I lived there with my dad and my mom. My aunt, my dad’s sister, and her children (my cousins) lived there as well. This was in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY. Then, as now, Bedford-Stuyvesant was known as a tough neighborhood, and my mom and dad, as soon as could be arranged, purchased a house in an entirely different section of Brooklyn. My aunt moved out after awhile too – she moved to New Jersey.
My parents divorced when I was 8, and not too long after that, my father remarried – and moved back into my grandmother’s apartment building. He, being a community organizer, believed firmly in reinvesting in the community. Besides creating a community services center in the storefront of my grandmother’s building, my father and my stepmother purchased a number of other properties on the block. The dream was to purchase, renovate, and make productive the many otherwise rundown or abandoned buildings in the community.
That they accomplished as much as they did (the purchase of the several properties) was impressive because they were not rich. If anything – they were lower middle class, and their only income was whatever they would earn from low-income housing (only sometimes collecting rents) and the small salaries they paid themselves from grants brought into the community service center.
Out of the community service center, my father and stepmother coordinated social services for people in the neighborhood. The peripherally (or actually) homeless, the poor seniors shut in and unable to get about to take care of their basic needs – these were their clients. Helping welfare moms find both work and childcare was part of what they did long before Clinton coined the term “workfare.” Sometimes over a summer break, I would work in the soup kitchen that they ran. My dad taught me never to look down on people. The worst criminal could be a productive member of society… my dad had a way of organizing recently paroled men into neighborhood watches or other volunteer service.
My father, unfortunately, failed to live up to his own highest aspirations. He became addicted to drugs and over time, lost everything. My father’s demise took its toll on the neighborhood – the shining hope that had once been there – the belief that something good could happen on Ralph Avenue, and that maybe the residents there could be a part of it, died with my father’s failures.
At the age of 60, my dad was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Years of cocaine use is hard on a heart. This summer I spent a lot of time on the old block. I was working to get my father off the block, and into senior housing. His wife had died at the start of the summer, and I had a hope against all hope that my father would finally have improved living conditions that would let him regain some of his health, and some hope for living. I asked him what he thought of Obama’s chances. He thought that Obama would win. I asked him if folks in the neighborhood were excited about it all… he said no.
In the end, even after getting my dad set up in decent housing, he died. He was only 63, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t believe he died clean. Hopelessness, when it sets in, is worse than cancer – and even the excitement of this moment doesn’t reach fully into the deepest part of the inner city. Nothing short of a win – and real results – will bring hope to communities that are used to black failure, both at our own hands, and at the ever-present hand of racism.
So – today, with only a day and change left to this election season, I’m offering the one reason I never let myself offer before, for why I want Obama to win. I want him to win because he’s black. Because – I want people who are teetering on the edge of hopelessness, who’ve seen it all, done it all, and don’t believe in change – I want them to see change happen. I want that self-defeatist doubt to finally be itself doubted… I want hope to become real for those who don’t dare to hope.
I’ve had lots of reasons to want Obama to win. I’ve come around on universal health care. I absolutely want green energy. I am sick of corruption going unchecked. I’m concerned that government has gotten too complex for the little people to monitor it. I think Obama can bring about change in all of those conditions. But just for today – I want Obama to win, because I want it to be finally proven that it really CAN happen. And I want him to be a kick-butt president, because I have already seen what it looks like when a brilliant man with a generous heart and an innovative mind lets himself and others down. Obama has proven, against lots of odds, not least of which includes beating the trajectory of drug involvement, that he can deliver. I want to see him do it.
When my father died, it fell to me to go through his things, decide what to keep and what to toss. In a suit pocket, I found 2 dollars. It was all he had to his name. I promised to do a good deed with those two dollars, because as a Baha’i, I believe that good deeds done in the name of the deceased help their souls in the hereafter. I put one dollar in the bucket at a 12 step meeting – one that my father would have qualified for had he ever availed himself of the opportunity. I donated $20 And to the nice round number of 20, I’m adding $1. So, that’s 20 from me, and 1 from my dad, in support of hope, and change.
I donated directly at Barack Obama’s site and as part of Bob Cesca’s fundraising drive, which is here: https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/pf?outreach_page_id=69867