Some Black Leaders Say Dream Realized, Focus Now On Work | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Some Black Leaders Say Dream Realized, Focus Now On Work

Over the past four years, the presidential narrative has shifted for African-Americans like Louisiana state Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith of Baton Rouge.

"I'm 66 years old," said Smith, at an event Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., for black state legislators here for the Democratic National Convention. "And before 2008, I didn't think I'd live to see a dream come true."

Barack Obama's election as president four years ago was an enormous milestone in the nation's often halting march toward equality, and a realized American dream for many African-Americans. This time, it feels different, said Smith and others we interviewed at the legislators' wine and hors d'oeuvres gathering in the city's Harvey B. Gantt Center, named for the man who became the city's first African-American mayor in 1983.

In 2008, Obama felt like theirs, said Smith, a convention delegate, who was sporting an "Obama Y'all" button. "Now, he's not there just for people who look like me — he's for all Americans, from all walks of life, all shapes, colors and sizes," she said.

In two days, Obama will again accept his party's nomination.

"It does feel different for me," said Smith. "This time my biggest concern is making sure we get voters out."

Her comments echoed an overarching theme we heard from others at the event: Obama is also president for Americans they felt were not reflected at last week's largely white Republican National Convention, including advocates for women's reproductive rights, Latinos fighting for immigration reform and the DREAM Act, and gay rights activists.

"We've lived the dream, now we have to do the work," said Marcus Wheeler, 36, a NASA engineer and Florida convention delegate. "I would have the same expectation for any president that I have for him."


"People of any color want to go to work, want good jobs," he said. "We need to keep the ball rolling."

This how Oregon state Rep. Lew Frederick, 60, of Portland, characterized conversations among African-Americans at this convention: "Race, culture, economic status and gender are issues now fueling a lot of the discussion here."

That doesn't mean that Obama's race isn't still in play in this campaign, and some expressed frustration at what they see as GOP efforts to portray the president as somehow not American.

"What's the slogan they're using — 'Take Our Country Back'?" said Dianne Hart, 57, of Tampa, Fla. "From what? A black man?"

"I know racism; I've lived through it," said Hart, president of the Hillsborough, Fla., County Democratic black caucus. "It is alive and well."

Voter ID efforts and the characterization of Obama's tweaking of welfare work programs to accommodate requests from governors — both Democrats and Republicans — are manifest of a tone, an atmosphere that state Rep. Darryl Owens, 74, of Louisville, Ky., says has driven race relations backward since Obama's election.

"Many people thought the country was changing, and changing too fast," he said of Obama's election four years ago. "We're seeing a lot of white middle-class people voting against their own self-interest because they feel the nation has changed too much — an African-American in the White House, gay marriage."

But for Greenville, S.C., County Councilwoman Xanthene Norris, 83, this year is still filled with hope.

"We have struggled through the years," said Norris. "We are supporting President Obama not because he's a black president, but because he's a great president."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit



Living Small In The City: With More Singles, Micro-Housing Gets Big

Single people represent the fastest growing category of households in the U.S. That's made small dwellings — from micro-apartments to stand-alone tiny houses, a niche force in the real estate market.

Don't Be Fooled By The Fishy Ingredients: This Burger Is Delicious

Chef Marcus Samuelsson has a ritual whenever he travels to a new place — ask the cabdriver, "Where do you eat?" When he did that on a trip to Barbados, he fell in love with a fish sandwich.
WAMU 88.5

Hogan Refutes Claims That His Charter-School Bill Is A Union Buster

More than half of the state's 47 charter schools are located in Baltimore, and Hogan believes making it easier for more to open there — and elsewhere in Maryland — would help close the widening achievement gap between white students and students of color.

FCC Approves New Rules Intended To Protect Open Internet

The Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines — 3 to 2 — to approve new net neutrality rules that would regulate access to the Internet more like a public utility.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.