Friday, February 27, 2009

Dreams From My Father, Part II

The second part of Dreams From My Father brings Obama to Chicago as a community organizer. During his campaign, Obama got a little flack for claiming his work as a community organizer was "executive" experience. When you read all the work he had to do during his first three years in Chicago, you can surely believe he has the gumption it takes to organize the varitey of people in D.C.

The work that he did with the people of the south side of Chicago is pretty amazing. Community organizing is a thankless job for not a lot of money (depending), and you really have to believe in what you're doing. Once again, reading about this part of his life, proved to me that our president is true to himself, even today.

Here are a few passages I found particularly interesting. This one is somewhat future-predicting, and maybe acts as a window into what Obama may feel as president:
"I wondered whether, away from the spotlight, Harold [Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, 1983-1987] thought about those constraints [that nothing seemed to change]. Whether like Mr. Anderson or Mrs. Reese or any number of other black officials who now administered over inner city life, he felt as trapped as those he served, an inheritor of sad history, part of a closed system with few moving parts, a system that was losing heat every day, dropping into low-level stasis.

"I wondered if he, too, felt a prisoner of fate."
I know Obama has just gotten into office, but somedays I wonder if he sits there watching republicans disagree with him - sometimes for good reason, sometimes to just disagree - and feels trapped. If he feels he might not be able to do everything he wants to do. If he might not be able to change, and to serve not only black people but the American people, the way he wants to. Granted, he wouldn't be a very good president if he was already frustrated one month in, but still, I don't envy his job.

The following is a quote from a conversation Obama had with a school counselor in an inner-city Chicago school back when he was a community organizer in the '80s. The counselor talks about the curriculum in black schools:
"Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That's the starting point of any educational process. That's what makes a child hungry to learn - the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for a black child, everything's turned upside down. From day one, what's he learning about? Someone else's history. Someone else's culture. Not only that, this culture he's suppose to learn is the same culture that's systematically rejected him, denied his humanity."
When I read a passage like this, it makes me a little embarassed about black history month. Why just a month, when white kids learn about their culture all year round (and don't necessarily appreciate it)? What he says makes perfect sense. Of course kids whose ancestors come from a homeland other than Europe would want to learn about it. Of course they're not going to be interested in learning each day about someone else's history. I understand that many Europeans helped found America, and as an American that's important to learn about, but the reasons they came here are not the same reasons black people came here (obviously), or the same reasons any other non-white race came to America. And that too is valuable information. I also understand that there's not enough time in the school year to teach everything. But, I don't think it would hurt to try and find a better balance.

During his time in Chicago is also when Obama met Jeremiah Wright. As someone who wasn't really familiar with Wright when the whole mess went down during Obama's campaign, I found this interesting. Putting religion and church-organization aside, I did find it interesting that Wright's church offered so much more to the community than just a place of worship. It offered Yoga classes, African history classes, volunteer opportunities, etc. It had a membership comprising all economic classes. When Obama first went to a service, he realized that it was a place where people could come and feel like they belong. So, if they can't get it in the schools, maybe they can get it at church. (Note: The first sermon Obama heard from Wright was titled "The Audacity of Hope," which is the title of Obama's other book.)

Obama has now left Chicago, having been accepted to Harvard law. He took a trip to Kenya before he started. I've just started this part of the book. While there were just a few sections of the Chicago portion that moved a little slowly, I'm still really enjoying this book.

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