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Black Leaders in D.C. Talk Candidly about Historic Election

New America Media, News Report, Compiled by Alexandra Moe Posted: Nov 07, 2008

Editors Note: A roundtable of scholars, political leaders, and journalists met at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that focuses on issues of concern to African Americans, to discuss the impact of Obama's victory, and the election of the first African-American president. The following are excerpts from the discussion.

Deborah Simmons, Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Times
Last night, I had a flashback to 1968, to the riots (in Washington, D.C.). I had never been so afraid in my life as when I saw the National Guardsmen patrolling the city. There was a curfew imposed and all of a sudden I was being told when I could go to school, when I could go out and play things that before, my parents had decided. I remembered hearing the advice, Be still.

I went up to the church at the top of the hill and I asked for understanding. I could sit up on that hill and see my city burning. It wasn't Georgetown that burned, it wasn't downtown D.C. that burned. It was the very neighborhoods that are now facing the greatest challenges.

Last night when Barack Obama won and Jesse Jackson was crying on TV, I saw that the generational baton, the cultural baton, was handed over, and that that race is over.

The world is not black or white; it is black and white.

We're in the game together now party affiliation is irrelevant. He couldn't have done this without white folks.

In the campaign I never heard either one of them say the word "poor" I heard them mainly talking about middle class folks.

It was in the houses of worship that led us to where we are today. The focus is now on where we're going, not where we've been.

Somebody said to me last night I'm not saying I agree with them, but they said, We can no longer claim for reparations because we have been repatriated.

We need to make sure that we have more Obamas. We need to be talking and explaining to our children what's going on. It is clear now that we are part of the solution.

Hazel Trice Edney, Editor, NNPA and Blackpressusa.com
I was in a cab driving up Georgia Ave. yesterday when it hit me that this was going to happen. I saw all of these kids crossing at a light in front of us. One teacher was in front of the line, and one in the back, and the one in the back was saying to all these little heads as they crossed the street, Go, President! Go, Vice President! Go, Secretary of State! Go, National Security Advisor! Because I know all of you are in there somewhere. And I got it. That the possibility was true.

It is what is about to happen that we must stay present for, from the black press perspective.

It takes the tree-shakers and the jelly-makers to make anything happen. The jelly-makers like Barack, and the tree-shakers who are beyond any association of government, out there as the grassroots people on the ground. He cannot do this alone. There has got to be a balance. People ask, What will happen to Jesse Jackson and Rev. Sharpton now? Nothing. The greatest opportunity they will have is now, to get freedom, justice, and opportunity for all.

Denise Barnes, Publisher, Washington Informer
The first person I wanted to call was my daddy (who had passed). We think about the work that all of these individuals did.

As I stood in line with my son, who was voting in his second election, and my other son, who was voting in his first, you feel that you can truly say, If you do the work you're supposed to do, you can be whatever you want to be.

It's not about Barack Obama bringing change to the world. The change is going to come from within. Essentially, there are no more excuses.

Now that we've put a black man in the White House, we want to put black men back in the homes. And have black women be the first ladies of those homes.

In my neighborhood in D.C., east of the river some people call it Anacostia we had 3,000 'returning citizens' voting (ex-offenders.) That's something.

What was most amazing was how everyday people were engaged. The American people want to be engaged.

Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
Some of us jumped for joy, some took the streets, some went to the White House, some of us said, 'Amen,' and some thought about all of the people who had worked before us to make this happen. I wished I could call my parents who had passed away. If I could call my mama or could call my daddy and say an African American had been elected to the highest office in the land, they would say, 'Boy, stop joking.' America is a great country. America is a land of opportunity. This morning coming to work, there was a lot more pep in people's step. Did you notice that? People opening doors for each other, letting cars pass in front of them.

Dr. Ronald Waters, Director, African American Leadership Institute, and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, University of Maryland
This could not have happened if the American people were not ready for it. This was an incredible synergy of opportunities. The 2006 legislative victories signaled that Americans wanted change. What Barack was able to say, and what none of the other candidates were able to say was, 'This is about you.' What they needed was an able drum major and Barack Obama became that drum major.

He became the symbol. Now we have to see if there is the substance to formulate a notion of achieving equality.

If president-elect Obama could have white people truly understand the plight of black people in America the double-digit unemployment, that the poverty rate is back at 30 percent, that everyone who is locked up is black, the housing crisis and foreclosure rates then I believe he could impact race relations in America. He has given us the symbol. Can he give us the substance, into the realm of equality?

Related Articles:

Washington African Americans See Representation in Obama

Ethnic Media Voices Weigh in on Obama Administration

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