America Won On November 4

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[Election 2008]

I was honored to be the first person to vote in my precinct. Like many, many others, I looked forward to helping out the Obama campaign and doing whatever I needed to do to help restore the hope that had been lost in our nation. But, on November 5th I woke up thinking not about what President-elect Obama must do. I woke up thinking, "What must I do?"

As an African-American I connected with his campaign and election on an emotional and historical level. There was something deep in my soul that prayed for him and his family. I was in Denver standing two rows behind Senator Hillary Clinton when she propelled Obama the final hurdle to become the democratic nominee.

I admire Hillary and always have. She is brilliant and if I were in a battle, I’d want her right by my side. But, there was something deeper and higher than the glass ceiling for me. There was a dark cloak of shame that blinded America. The shame of slavery. The shame of Jim Crow. The shame of a divided nation in a country that everyday cites a pledge that says "one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

Barack Obama and 52% of the electorate ripped that cloak to shreds.

Whites and Blacks, Latinos and Asians, and our nation’s original people, the American Indians, decided that shame’s burden was too much to carry – the load far too heavy. The deep-rooted lies that began by calling Black people three-fifths human not suited for anything but manual labor and breeding..the awful sight of strange fruit hanging from a tree…the tragedy of so many of today’s young African-American boys and girls not reaching for their highest self – those lies – that burden had become too heavy for a nation to carry.

President-elect Obama’s campaign was about far more than the plight of African-Americans. A nation in two wars with no end in sight, an economy in deep trouble, energy dependency that began in the 70s and continues to this day, an environment in peril, a health care system that cries out for repair – yes, his election was about more. But, there is something that can barely be explained, something almost intangible in what the 2008 Presidential election meant to those who looked in the mirror and wondered if we would ever really be judged by the content of our character.

The unequivocal answer, delivered on Nov. 4th was a resounding "yes!"

So, I woke up on Nov. 5th thinking, "What must I do?" President-elect Obama cannot carry my weight. I must join with my brothers and sisters of every hue and color and find a way to carry his. I often used to tell young people with whom I worked that they had a responsibility to represent me wherever they went. They were intimately linked to me. They couldn’t lie. They needed to dress appropriately. They needed to speak politely and with respect. No fights. No put downs. Our job, collectively, was and is to represent each other. I placed a heavy responsibility on them. On November 4th, Barack Obama, placed a heavy responsibility on me and millions of other Americans. We now represent him.

Young people – especially Blacks and Latinos – you represent Obama now. Pursue education. That’s what he did. In a household where his father left his family, Obama studied hard. When he was made fun of because of his name – he pushed forward to discover who he was and determine what he would be. Education was his vehicle. It can and should be yours. No excuses. Sorry. That’s gone now. Poor school? Go to the library. A burned-out teacher? Help out in class. You’ve already messed up royally? Tough. Get back up. Fight for a better reputation by helping someone else out. Reach higher. Dream more. Believe large. The Audacity of Hope is not just the name of a book. It is the fuel in an engine that will allow you to overcome the challenges, the sucker punches of life, the naysayers.

If there was one message that came from Barack Obama’s candidacy, it is that regardless of the odds, regardless of the challenges, regardless of the naysayers, do your homework, focus on the goal, build a support team and move forward. Be strategic. The old Civil Rights theme was correct, "keep your eyes on the prize."
We have a nation to repair. We have neighbors that need our help, at home and abroad. We have soldiers that need to come home, and when they get here, we need to take care of them. We have a lot of work to do.

I say to my fellow Americans the same thing I said to the teenagers when I worked with them, and, I add two more things, "Stand tall. We represent a great man!"

La-Verna Fountain was the Director of former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford’s Central Pennsylvania office. She is the President and Founder of the Defiant Hope Consulting and Training Company and currently serves as an Associate Vice President at Columbia University in New York City.

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