Climbing Uphill


Sixteen days before Election Day, I found myself on a half dozen interviews for campaign positions with several of the hundreds of grassroots’ nonprofits canvassing for Obama. The position of choice was canvass director, though I admittedly had no organizing experience.

At the time, I was on leave from NYU film, having recently moved out of my apartment and into my sister’s, living out of a duffel bag while working at a freelance editing job I hated. Since I wasn’t doing anything particularly meaningful, I figured I might as well pack my things, take a bus to Virginia or Ohio, and start working for change.

According to the pundits, Obama has had that same effect on a lot of people, the formerly apathetic turned staunch activists.

As basic as his message of hope and change seemed, what excited us most was the idea that changing our level of civic engagement was both the means to Obama's victory and an end in itself. That we could potentially overturn an entrenched political regime, dating back to the Reagan era, while becoming agents of change in our communities and the world – some for the first time ever.

I was inspired, albeit late in the political game, and spoke with a few friends about my intentions to work for change.

"You're not a white college boy from Nebraska," one retorted, unimpressed with my vision of leading a struggling campaign office in a swing state. I had always been a person with vision, he said, who needed no compass guiding me in the right direction.

Having gotten a campaign job offer, I found myself stalling and ultimately turning it down. Come November 4, I was still stuck to my sister's couch, leaving early that morning to vote, joining a line that stretched around two Brooklyn city blocks. As the day wore on I was cautiously optimistic, watching as Obama took Ohio and Florida. When the results came in and he was named President so easily, so elegantly, without the Supreme Court battle I had expected, I was filled with a mixture of joy, hope, and disbelief.

Screaming, crying, and dancing, I spent the night at the Libation party watching Obama’s acceptance speech, as accompanied by DJ Ian Friday’s afrobeat grooves, projected on a white bed sheet suspended from the ceiling. Outside the streets were teeming with happy, hopeful people, strangers laughing and embracing.

Together we – a collection of black, brown, yellow, red, and white; old and young; gay and straight; male and female; rich and poor people; who were never supposed to have the right to vote – had helped change the world.

The celebrations around the globe validated the fact that Obama's victory was a win for us all – a collective exhalation of a centuries-held breath waiting to see if we, as oppressed peoples, would ever be deemed worthy, trusted, respected, and intelligent enough to become the masters of our own destiny, and ultimately lead the world.

Seeing a bit of Obama in myself, I was left wondering, "What is the change I wish to see in my own life?" Wondering why – apart from a short doc I shot of some canvassers in downtown Brooklyn – I sat idly by as history was unfolding.

I offer that, perhaps, it is only through Barack Obama's election to the Presidency that I have seen my full potential. Reflected in a way that is both dazzling and blinding as a minority, as a black woman, and as an African. It was the unattainable, now attained, that leaves us all questioning how we've set our own goals and measured our successes. Whether we truly believe that we are deserving, capable, and intelligent enough for our wildest dreams to come true.

As did the President elect, I realize that there is an uphill climb where we're going, and that hard work is the only way to get there. While I am elated to be on the path – with him in spirit – I am equally sobered by the journey ahead.

And I hope that Obama’s message of change will catalyze an era that revolutionizes and transforms each and every one of our lives toward something bolder, prouder, and more audacious. Now and forever.

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