Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Power of an Example

There is a success story in Barack Obama’s life that only tangentially involves the Presidency.
To describe this, I must tell the reader that I taught for 28 years at a university that was 1/3 African American and 1/3 Latino. In my life at the University, I had long discussions with students whose fathers had abandoned them. Since my father died when I was seven and we lived for years on social security payments there were some connections that came easily.  However it took awhile for them to believe I was supportive and non-judgmental because I was from another race. Eventually students passed on their positive assessments of me to new students.
The stories were almost uniformly sad. One woman used a lot of Kleenex when she said; “What’s wrong with me, he left before I was even born.” Many had never had a male figure in their lives. What that had done to their psyches had different effects on different students. Many intelligent students sabotaged themselves because they thought they were not worthy of success.  One expressed outright hatred of the absent biological father whom he said he would kill if he ever met him.
I also had students who had surmounted this and were my best students. They all had a will and an ability to transcend what cards they’d been originally dealt.
Barack Obama is really the poster child for all of my best students. He stands as a beacon for those who want to be something despite the obstacles that stand before them.
Obama’s father deserted him when he was very young; he had a stepfather who his mother divorced, which saw him returning to Hawaii without that male figure. But he had a grandmother and grandfather who showed him love and gave him support.
His drive and determination, along with what must be a very solid, physical brain structure, helped him achieve and he moved from success to success. Although I became Assistant to the President of Occidental College after he left for Columbia, everything I have ever heard  from those who taught him was laudatory.
His success or failure in the Presidency as evaluated by historians will not affect his importance as a symbol for young African-Americans.

By the way I have another blog called My Student, My Hero that discusses one of my former student’s successes.

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