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January 27th, 2009
01:35 PM ET

Audacity of hoping

Allison Samuels
Newsweek

As soon as my jam-packed plane hit the ground in Washington, I instantly felt a kind of shift in the air. D.C. has long been called the "chocolate city" for its large number of African-American residents. But on this particular weekend—the historic one before the swearing-in of the first African-American president—the city was transformed into a sort of chocolate Disney World. The streets were filled with thousands of smiling, almost giddy, brown faces. Young and old wandered joyfully and endlessly in the freezing cold, searching for any souvenir with Barack Obama's face on it. "This is what hope looks like," I remarked to one of my friends as we walked by a man selling T shirts with a picture of the White House and the slogan THE BLACK HOUSE.

Ever since Barack Obama and his family hit the national scene two years ago, African-Americans have balanced our greatest hopes against our fears of disappointment. Would he run? Would he win the nomination? Would he, could he, win the presidency? On the broadest level, Obama has fulfilled our dreams just by taking office. African-American boys I know in South-Central Los Angeles who wore cornrows and once dreamed of nothing more than living to the age of 18 without being shot down are now entering barbershops to ask for the no-nonsense Obama haircut. Teenage girls I mentor who once yearned only for a date with someone who lived "the thug life," are now giving the nerd in the front of the class a second look.

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Filed under: Allison Samuels • Barack Obama • Raw Politics