In what many called his make-or-break moment the Senator stood strong on race, faith and friendship
Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama stood at the podium with American flags as his backdrop, looked America straight in the eye and delivered one of the most stirring speeches since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech on Tuesday March 18.
Eloquent, often stern and several times drawing ovations from the small crowd, Senator Obama addressed statements of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and challenged Americans of all ethnic groups to understand, embrace and move beyond their racial differences.
Obama dug deep into the ugly wounds of racism that have affected this country for centuries, describing the Constitution as “words on a parchment that would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States.”
“What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part—through protest and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk—to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time,” Obama said.
He then told the audience and the millions who watched on national television, “I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together.”
His speech came on the heels of harsh criticism from pundits and critics who questioned his long time relationship with esteemed clergyman Rev. Wright, whose defiant sermons to his predominantly Black congregation in Chicago openly exposed many of this nation’s ugly truths.
Obama called Wright’s remarks, “divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems—two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither Black or White, Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront all of us.”
He hailed Wright as a man who served as a United States Marine and studied and lectured at some of finest universities and seminaries in America. He also credited him with leading Trinity United Church of Christ, which for more than 30 years did God’s work by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services, scholarships and prison ministries while and reaching out to those suffering from HIV and AIDS.
Obama declared, “Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.”
“Just as Black anger often proved counter productive, so have these White resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze—a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short term greed.”
He said the memories of humiliation, doubt and fear for men and women of Wright’s generation have not gone away.
“We can tackle race as a spectacle as we did in the O.J. trial or in the wake of tragedy as we did in the aftermath of Katrina or as a fodder for the nightly news,” he spoke to yet another ovation.
Pointing directly to the Black community he said, “For the African American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life.”
For individuals and families he urged, “taking responsibility for our own lives by demanding more from our fathers and spending more time with our children and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe they can write their own destiny,” which drew yet another thunderous ovation from the crowd.
He closed his inspirational speech by recounting a story of a young 23-year-old White woman Ashley Baia who helped to organize his campaign in Florence, South Carolina and had been working with the African American community.
When Baia was just nine years old, her mother was stricken with cancer and because she could not work, lost her job and health benefits and had to file for bankruptcy. The young girl convinced her mother to allow her to eat mustard and relish sandwiches to save money.
During a round table discussion at the campaign headquarters, Baia asked everyone why they were there and an old Black man responded, “I’m here because of you, Ashley.”
“By itself that single moment of recognition between the young White girl and that old Black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick or jobs to the jobless or education to our children. But it is where we start,” Obama said.
Read entire Barack Obama speech at www.lasentinel.net or view it below.