Politics, Law & Government
The Obama Effect: Influencing African-American Boys and Men
While African-American men have always had prominent black male historical figures to applaud, we rarely learned much about them. Both U.S. and world histories are rich with inspirational chronicles of black scholars, politicians, authors, and educators—many of whom went unrecognized in our schools’ textbooks over the decades.
We never read the history of Ralph Bunche, an international and political intellectual who mediated for the UN Palestine Commission and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Our schools’ study guides and periodicals didn’t talk about Granville T. Woods, who in 1887 built the induction telegraph, a device which allowed communications between train stations from moving trains. Woods fought and won a legal suit imposed by Thomas Edison, who challenged Woods’s patent of the Multiplex Railway Telegraph. Wanting to remain an independent inventor, Woods later turned down Edison's offer to make him partner at the Edison Electric Light Company.
The omission of influential Blacks from academic literature often receives condemnation, but it is the after-effects that receive the most attention. The world observes the lifestyles of young African-American men and wonders why they choose controversial paths. We question why young men ignore avenues distinguished with science and mathematics, but instead explore the world of entertainment and celebrity. We have seen black boys’ interests in fashion and sports climb, while the desire to study art and chemistry staggers. Consequently, many young men appear misguided and fail to choose a path at all. Even as parents make every effort to raise well-balanced boys in the home, many have not found a similar balance in their schools.
Despite the fact that Obama's journey to the 44th Presidency has already produced several documentaries, books, articles, and movements, many blacks still worry about his story being told correctly, and whether that story will appear prominently in our schools’ texts. If you ask a black child to diagram the significant works of men like Carter G. Woodson (1875 – 1950) or Daniel Hale Williams (1856 – 1931), he might not be able to tell you. Not surprisingly, he may be extremely well versed on the stories of George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
The scrutiny levied against the inadequate references to important black male figures in public school curricula usually focuses on the disservice to African-Americans. But it’s not only African-Americans who were deprived of an important history lesson. The scope of discussion regarding notable black men and their exclusion from our textbooks, applies to children of all backgrounds who have collectively suffered from a lack of exposure.
Today, we see moderate growth in the number of black historical references found in our public schools’ textbooks, which are crucial to the social and academic development of children. This is especially true for boys who are profoundly influenced by positive male figures inside and outside of school. When African-American boys learn about men like Elijah McCoy (1843 – 1929), Benjamin Banneker (1731 – 1806), and Ralph (Waldo) Ellison (1914 – 1994), they begin to believe that any level of success is attainable. Studying the achievements of these men, who prospered in spite of their circumstances, helps cultivate positive attitudes and raise the level of expectation.
Barack Obama's historic climb to the most powerful position in the world gives young African-American males an advantageous view of the future. When Obama was elected President of the United States on November 4, 2008, a new chapter in American history began to take shape. Black boys and men are being given another remarkable example from which to pattern themselves. Even those young men who feel ignored or discouraged now have hope.
Obama, a well-respected family man who possesses a stellar academic background and a history of public service in the Black community, will represent a beacon of confidence and inspiration for many young men. His perseverance, dedication to self-education, and unyielding desire to create change are the cornerstones of his achievements.
Men like Obama help define and construct the essential building blocks young men need in order to expect greatness. Most black boys don’t aspire to become President, but many now know that it is possible.
Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers had iconic men like Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895) to admire. Douglass, an abolitionist, women's suffragist, orator, author, and statesman who remained active in his pursuit to better the lives of African-Americans, continues to be one of the most esteemed figures in the world. After conferring with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and recruiting northern Blacks into the Union Army, Douglass fought for the rights of women, Blacks, and for the equality of all people. In 1872, he became the first African-American to be nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate and ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States.
For generations to come, our brothers, sons and grandsons will use Obama’s achievements in much the same way our forefathers used Douglass’s. Many believe that Obama’s legacy has already begun, and that having a black man in the White House is enough encouragement to impact a generation. But Obama’s story is extraordinary and there are many chapters left to write.
The number of young Black men affected by Barack Obama will be immeasurable. Seeing Obama lead a well-grounded, loving family gives young African-American men a tangible example of core family values to follow. His scholastic achievements provide an educational platform young men can emulate. His steadfast dedication to culture, gender, and racial diversity prepares men for a platform from which they can speak on self-respect and harmony.
Having a black president will not eradicate racism, stop criminal activity, or fix the multitude of problems we face in this country. However, a figure like Barack Obama gives young African-American men, whose progress is seen as an important step to the stability of our nation, unprecedented access to a living legend.
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