As a child in South Carolina, I sat one day flipping through my mother’s high school yearbook and realized with a sudden shock that there were no black people in the pictures.
Last night, I sat weeping as I watched Barack and Michelle Obama and their two young daughters take the stage as the next First Family of my country.
The entire image above the fold of my local newspaper this morning is the picture of the four of them standing on that stage. When the picture changes that dramatically in one generation, no words are necessary.
So I want today to put on paper some of the pictures that are in my heart and in my mind from the past few days....
Men and women gathered once again last weekend around folding tables at a church in New Orleans — working as they have for three long years to bring a just recovery to all the people of their city — and speaking with voices full of wonder of what just might happen on Tuesday.
Standing in the rain for hours on Monday night with my husband and seven-year-old daughter to hear Obama speak here in Charlotte — deeply heartened by his complete focus on hope and unity.
Spending all of Election Day canvassing in middle class and poor black neighborhoods (yes, to our shame, almost every neighborhood in Charlotte can still be accurately described in racial terms). Gathered with a host of other volunteers — young, old, black, white, gay, straight, immigrant and native-born — we knocked on every door — making sure everyone had had the chance to vote — making sure people knew their precinct — taking van full after van full of people without transportation to their polling places.
Speaking with fellow volunteer Jasmine, an African American woman about my age, who, when I spoke of what this day must mean to people who had been unable to vote at all earlier in their lives said simply, “That’s my family — those are my grandmothers and my grandfathers who were turned away from the polls all those years.”
Meeting throughout the day with elderly black men and women who proudly showed me their “I voted” stickers — young black women and men voting for the first time because at long last they believe that the American Dream includes them.
Carrying to the polls people who lived much of their lives going to the "colored" water fountains, bathrooms, and schools.
Watching teenagers too young to vote hugging their parents with tears running down their faces, so excited that mom and dad were going to vote.
Watching so very many of them of all ages weep as they voted, swept away by the immensity of what we were all doing.
Watching live images from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (a BPFNA Partner Congregation and a sanctuary many of us know from our amazing worship services there at our Summer Conference in 2006). From there, Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Junior, spoke of how this day was the culmination of the dream for which her mother and father had sacrificed so much.
Watching Senator John McCain give a deeply gracious and unifying concession speech that honored the importance of this watershed moment for our country — proving, I think, that he is at heart the good man that Senator Obama frequently reminded us he was. (On Monday night, an absolutely crucial moment, I was so grateful for Obama’s equally gracious words for his opponent.)
I am mindful, of course, that though these changes seem unbelievably swift to me — the truth is that many, many people — known and unknown — suffered, bled, and even died generation after generation to make this day possible.
The dream that was in their hearts — the dream of a dramatically different day — is not yet complete — but as a people we made an enormous stride toward that dream yesterday.
In Obama’s wonderful acceptance speech, he said clearly that our work has just begun. The challenges we face as a country and as a world are immense — it will not be easy by any means to truly fulfill the dream and the hope made possible by this remarkable election.
As he spoke, I held in my mind and my heart the neighborhoods I had walked all day — I have a clear personal responsibility to them — WITH them. I cannot walk those streets asking them to stand with me on election day and then not stand with them in the days to come.
I do not yet know what that will look like, but I feel that I have made a commitment that I must fulfill.
I know that here in Charlotte, throughout the US, and throughout the world, there is so much wrong that cries out to be made right — and no one person will or can change it all. So very much remains to be done.
And yet, right now, I want to spend this day holding yesterday in my heart — savoring this new picture we have created.
As one middle-aged black woman said yesterday as she returned to our van after voting for the first time in her life, "Thank you, sweet Jesus, for this day."
Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
LeDayne McLeese Polaski is the Program Coordinator in BPFNA's leadership team. She can be reached through our contact page.