Thursday, November 20, 2008


It was a usual morning that day except I knew that my mother was also coming to school to attend the 8th grade assembly, an end-of-the-year assembly to say thanks and goodbye to us before we left to high school. It also included end-of-the-year awards. I was ushered to the front to sit on the stage just like my teachers told me the day before. Apparently all nominees for the Johnston Award had to be on stage. All other awards just called up the winner.
The Johnston Award is like a holistic valedictorian award. Grades are a criteria but it's really holistic in terms of everything—service, attitude, grades, reaching-out, character, aspirations, etc. To tell the truth, I'm not really sure of all it entails. I just thought it was mostly about grades. And so I thought Aaron Yeoman was going to win it.

We all thought that.

My middle school, at the time, was majority white, but had a large non-white population. My guess it was a small majority of about 60% or so. But all non-whites thought it would go to a European-American person. And even if it didn't, why would the African-Americans be excited about an oreo being up there like me? That's what they called me anyway.

So when they announced all the winners, I wasn't particularly excited or nervous. I thought maybe this other kid might have a chance and beat Aaron, but it would probably be Aaron. But something strange happened, very strange.

After announcing the nominees for this final award and explaining what it is based on (I wasn't listening), they announced that I had won the award. That's not the strange part. The strange part was what happened next. The entire auditorium erupted in pandemonium. People were screaming, yelling, hooting, hollering, clapping, dancing. The place had to be quieted down. It was like we were at a sports event. And then I realized it. It was about more than me. People could NOT believe that an African-American had won the award. It was inconceivable. It was also the first time in the history of that school that it had happened.

Aaron Yeoman was outraged and incensed. He stormed off the stage. My mother found me, and at that time in my life, was quite happy with me and proud of me. There was a nice innocence there. I just smiled surprised. All the kids who called me oreo came up to me and congratulated me. I may have been an oreo but I was there oreo and they could take a bite any time they wanted (I don't know what that means).

My mom hugged me and said nice words as I boarded the buses for our 8th-grade ranch day (same day as the assembly) at Regal Ranch where we would play games, eat lunch, ride horses, canoe, etc. And throughout the day people would continue to congratulate me.

I even remember the following week after that (we still had a few more days of school in which we did nothing). Aaron Yeoman said audibly and loudly, standing right next to me, how it was completely wrong—a mistake. He began to list the reasons why he should have won the award (He has won more science fairs than me [he's right I have never one a science fair on any level], he has won the history fair [he's right, I have never won a history fair on any level], he has higher grades than me, he smarter than me. . .) I remember thinking, “Wow, he is mad.” I told my best friend Jose-Miguel about it at the time. It was a bit crazy to hear him say that, but I wasn't mad at him. I just found it interesting. When I looked at it, I think most of the stuff he said was right. And then Ms. Young (she was a pretty Chinese American teacher who taught history) came up to me and told me she had voted for me or chose me or fought for me (it's not a popular vote; the teachers decide). She assured me I was the best person to win because it's not about grades; it's the total person. I never got that day or what it meant to so many people.

Wednesday morning news saw no murders, no rapes, no high-profile court cases, no political party drama, no international tragic sagas in the DRC and Zimbabwe. There was only one thing going on in the news. The biggest news in Africa and South Africa is not just the US election, but Barak Obama. I can imagine a small bit of what he must be feeling though his situation is on a much grander and important scale before the whole world.

So when I received a newsletter from a pastor of a church in Texas that I used to play for, I wasn't surprised. It was Aaron Yeoman speaking in a subtle. You see in churches where I grew up, Christians are supposed to be Republican (my home churches were usually white-dominant Southern Protestant churches). This was evident to me because leaders would make comments in services or in prayers that show Republican support. I thought it was strange because I thought you could be a Christian and support any party supposedly. So I was familiar with the hidden, subtle sentiment in this e-newsletter. I wanted to paste it so you don't take my words for it, but it doesn't allow me to copy the words from the e-image.

The letter starts by saying the mission of Christ is the same no matter the elections.
It then says that the pastor is the pastor of a multi-ethnic, multicultural group [it's majority white].
This is followed by 3 cautions.
1These times can surface ungodly attitudes like anger, resentment, pride, or arrogance. Be careful that you don't forget or miss the deeper things God is doing in the short term.
2We're supposed to have checks and balances, but since one party holds most of the power, there is a danger and we need to be on moral watch for abortions, pornography, same sex marriage, and safety from terrorists.
3Any media coverage that only gives one side and instigates fear is wrong. The Lord is the one who brings people down and puts people up. But we live in a new time were people “go after” each other. We should insist in objective, unemotional coverage.
This is followed by four ways to pray after quoting the Apostle Paul from 1 Timothy 2:2,3.
1Wisdom to lead in ways that provide conducive atmosphere for sharing the Good News
2God gives us wisdom to stand/speak for unborn, elderly, and marginalized
3That spiritual voices and leaders are raised up to sound call for holiness, righteousness, and justice because our answer is not in the Oval Office but in the Throne Room of Heaven
4An outpouring of God's spirit and grace on the nation so that an unprecedented number of souls come to God and cities and lives are transformed and the church makes a difference

I won't comment much on it only that caution 2 is what is called selective moralism (and it's not good) and caution 3 strikes me as funny because the same church and pastor did not care at all or sound a caution when a different party controlled the Houses a number of years ago. So it doesn't seem like a true impartial concern for balance. I'll stop there though there are other points. I'm a bit used to it in Texas.

I'm dumbfounded and cannot understand how an Obama election win happened. How did he come to be in this position for such a time as this? It's quite amazing. I wish his maternal grandmother could have seen this day.

I just stood in front of the TV and cried. It's quite emotional because it means so much to so may who are not even Americans.

An African can have a child who can become the President of the United States.
A Muslim can have a step-child or child who can become the President of the United States.
An African-American person can have a child who can become the President of the United States.
An African-American can become the President of the United States.

Who knows? You may have been born for such a time as this.

Those words keep ringing in my head. They are said by an Ancient Persian government official who was actual Jewish as he was speaking to his niece who was to save the Jews that year.

It's a bit difficult to explain what is happening the world round. People are rejoicing; they are seriously rejoicing. I believe the only reason I got my visa today was because Barak Obama won and I am an American.

You see people judge you by your leader. I'm not lying. I often have wondered what it must be like for Bush to read international (and these day U.S.) papers and newspapers and magazines that talk about his failed policies or his administration's failures. How does it make him feel? Does it sink in or bother him at all? Do you hold on to your guns and intuition and feel your administration did all that was right while people say the opposite the world over? I wonder if it affects him. Does it affect his identity?

At some point you have to sit and say, maybe what others say about me has truth. Or maybe they are saying it for a reason. So if the world is saying the U.S. is acting in a certain way that is negative towards the world community perhaps we should at least consider the possibility. It can't be that we have the only clear sight. Plus if one is acting in a bad manner, it takes friends (and sometimes enemies) to help because one wouldn't know it. Usually if you thought you were wrong, you wouldn't do it (most people). You act in a way you think and believe is right.

One thing the world says is that the decision between Obama and McCain is simple. This is hard for Americans to understand. South Africans tell me that Obama won by a landslide. I don't really think so; they are looking at the electoral college, and I don't say anything to them because I don't mind them thinking that. It gives them a certain opinion about us (that works both ways, people felt a certain way about all American people even though Bush's election results were close). But when you look at the popular vote, you see it is much closer. But now, people are saying, “Ok, maybe the American people do see that things were messed up and that things were bad.” “I can breathe a sigh of relief. If they had voted otherwise, I would think that what we feel is not anti-Bushism; it's anti-Americanism.” “It's interesting. Gordon Brown is very technical and precise when he speaks, though not motivational. Obama is super inspirational and motivational. But Bush seems to be neither. It's strange. It's weird to see a world leader who has no real ability to convey himself in a good understandable manner. And what can you say about the kind of people that would elect Bush to two terms? I can understand possibly one term (maybe), but two?” These are real comments people tell me.

For us as a people the decision was hard and it was a close battle, but for the world as continents (Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin American, Australia), he would have won by a landslide.

Take a look at the “global electoral college”.

I thought he would win ever since he was running in the presidential Democratic race, but I couldn't say that to people that questioned me for a true prediction. In that case you make a conservative guess or a conservative estimate. You don't want to be wrong for people who depend on what you say. But interestingly, since I made some predictions earlier, so many things had changed (McCain moving more right, McCain choosing Palin, many Republicans endorsing Obama including Colin Powell whose words were quite powerfully put, etc.). Honestly both men could have governed well though it is debatable to some (it depends on what you consider good governance).

I don't really know what to say. How in the world did this man capture the hopes and dreams of the entire WORLD?

He has been compared to Mandela, to Nkrumah—in Africa—to Martin King Jr. He is celebrated the world over and he hasn't even done anything yet. It's amazing and hard to understand and fathom. But it does make me feel like we can come together, like we can work on results-oriented solutions outside of Dem vs Repub. I just want to fix up the country and I want to work to do it. He's inspiring.

Every country here wants to work with this man. I almost feel like guys like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales might give us (the U.S.) back our ambassadors in their countries (they kicked out ambassadors recently and then the U.S. did the same in suit; Honduras has postponed the receipt of a new U.S. ambassador). Maybe no more troops have to die in Iraq. Maybe we can negotiate with Iran. Maybe Iran won't be so after us. Maybe African despots will have more respect for him (well they do; I don't know if you call Kibaki one, but he was elated and Kenya got a national holiday).

You see, one problem with the current administration is the reaction it has received. Many people hate the U.S. president. I'm speaking of people in the U.S. They paint him as completely evil. This, of course, is nonsense. Granted, I have had many hours where I have tried to understand the logic of what is happening in the country, but then I realize it is always about priorities (go back and read the blog or e-mail section about how priorities [not direct cares/concerns] form people's socio-political leanings). Bush is not evil or completely evil. He is not trying to harm people. He does not hate the developing world, citizens in Iraq and Iran, South America, the UN, poor people and the lower classes in the US, the environment, children in poverty in the US, Europe, Asia, etc. He has certain priorities. But here is the problem. The same mistake that people make in painting him one color is the exact mistake he gladly makes with countries around the world. When you call countries like Venezuela part of an Axis of Evil and call leaders and countries evil, that is nonsense. Leaders and countries have interests just like the U.S. It's difficult to find people that are all or completely evil. But when you paint your country as completely good and right and just and other countries as completely evil and wrong and unjust you put the wrong message in the minds of your own citizens who unknowingly follow you and in the minds of the people of the world. It's just not true. It makes complete sense why Chavez would then resort to name calling and paint the U.S. or Bush as one color—white devil or whatever comments he makes. It's tit for tat.

Never deceive yourself into thinking you are always right and you are on the side of justice. You must always be vigilant to guard yourself and examine your actions and thoughts especially input from others (people outside yourself). This works on a national scale. With Obama there is a chance to start on a clean slate. As I listened to the close of his speech election night (we didn't get to hear most of it), one thing struck me as odd in an exciting way: he said “God bless America.”


Well, after 9/11 I heard it, saw it, and read it everywhere I went. God bless America. God bless America. Bush said it. Country singers sang it. It was on bumper stickers. Was it me or did anyone else really heard a different message through it all. It wasn't truly “God bless America.” It was more like “God bless us because we're the best” or “God, help us to crush and kill our enemies” or “God make us great to the exclusion of others.” I'm not lying, you could see it was used not as a statement of the desire to follow God but as a battle cry as a motivation to do harm to others for vengeance. It was filled with xenophobia and jingoism. Anytime you speak from a jingoistic standpoint you can be sure you've missed the mark.

But here, in Chicago, on this cold night as he spoke those words acknowledging all the people around the world believing in him, it means something different. It reminded me of the Ancient Judeo-Christian tradition of a man (who is also considered to have been the father of the ancestral line founding Islam) – Abraham. And he had a covenant with God in which God promised to bless him, but it wasn't so that Abraham's family and name would be mighty or so that he could crush his enemies or so that he would be the best in the world to the exclusion of others. It wasn't a battle cry and it wasn't reactionary. God told him that he would bless Abraham to BE A BLESSING.

Interesting concept. But I can see it in this moment. It's as if America has been blessed (who can deny it) beyond any regime or government in any place in any time in the history of man. And people around the world our looking toward us for hope for help for love for the bond of humanity. We have broken that numerous times in the past but especially openly, consciously, and hurtfully within recent years even to our own Americans (look at all the money diverted away from just programs for children in poverty toward the war; today 1 in 6 kids lives in poverty in the U.S. and we lost ground over the past years). When Obama acknowledged those who didn't vote for him, when he acknowledged those of us around the world in palaces or huddled around radios, he gave us hope. And we feel like “God bless America” means what it was supposed to mean—God bless America so that it may bless others. Don't bless it as an end itself. Bless America to be a blessing. That's who America was. That's who America is.

With every comment here I felt the weight on his shoulders increase even through all the cheers and smiles. He has huge expectations. And let's be honest. There will be some mistakes along the way. It's a bumpy road ahead and he has inherited problems he didn't cause, but I would like to help do my part to resolve them. He probably cannot meet the expectations of everyone, and all analysts and journalist make it clear (you don't know how many articles I've seen here that tell South Africans that Obama is an American elected by Americans to protect American interests). We get it. Thanks for reminding us, and I'm sure he will tell us, too. But remember two things. One, even if he does very little, he has ALREADY done much just by being in the job and getting tot his position. It means something has changed most importantly the American people. Secondly, just by being in this position it makes it easier to work with people who did NOT want to work with the current administration, would not talk to us (or we would not talk to them), flatly discontinued relations, or continue wrongs to their people but could not stop to be swayed by the current administration. This is without any work. With work, more is possible.

Everyone looks up and admires the U.S.

I've heard more comments like that as well. It's as if the one election has reversed some of the past 8 years already. My goodness. My goodness. CNN reporters crying. Me crying.

The reason the next president means so much to the rest of the world is because we are affected by it in so many ways. One of the biggest for us in the developing world is aid. Right now there are strings attached to PEPFAR (US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) aid that was in the Bush plan. It cannot be related to condoms and you cannot use it for prostitutes. But what if the prostitute is a 12 year old girl who was forced to do it? It doesn't matter. So some people here don't like these strings and therefore don't like Bush for putting morality on the AID. Some think condoms are not an issue of morality; we just need it here in South Africa and elsewhere. And you can attack all areas of the ABC (abstinence, Be faithful [attack the sexual networks], use a condom [educate and distribute especially for married women who get it from unfaithful husbands and vice versa] and still work on the A (abstinence). They aren't mutually exclusive. But Bush has done much for Africa even if it was after a lot of encouragement and coaxing. It will be quite difficult for Obama to match the aid promised by Bush in the current financial storm.

You know my father always wanted to be in politics. He's ineligible to run for president but it means his children could one day be the president. My good friend Neeki wanted to be the first black president. That's over, but it does mean one day he could be the second black president (hopefully after the first woman president).

More importantly, it means there is a new direction and change coming for ALL of us, regardless of party or affiliation. I honestly think he is the person to do that. People said he is inexperienced but perhaps the experience needed for the job of winning the election was the organization work he did in Chicago. People said he is young. Perhaps the perspective needed to win this election was from a young person. He held his own in the debates. He actually does have policy (people always say he doesn't) and you can study. Perhaps he can. . .perhaps he can. . .more importantly, we can. . .and we will.

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