joanne sales



Transformed by Hope

Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 2009. For the moment, forget about political opinions. This story is about humans.

August 28, 1963, when I was 15, I took the bus with my brother to downtown Washington, DC, to be part of the March on Washington Jobs and Freedom organized by Martin Luther King. I remember the huge crowds (250,000), the signs, buttons, the mingling of people of all colors. It was at that rally that Martin Luther King delivered his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech. I didn’t hear the speech however, because the crowds stretched for miles.

Five years later, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Over the years, hope faded. People felt they lost their voices.

On November 4, 2008, 45 years later, crowds of people of all colors gathered in the streets of everywhere, world wide, jumping up and down, hugging strangers, tears running down their faces. This was not another march for jobs. A black American man had just been elected by a landslide to the most prestigious “job” in America – President of the United States.

We humans come in a multitude of colors with unique decorative features. It seems that our history has been dedicated to accentuating the differences between us. But beneath that surface façade, we are genetically 94% identical from continent to continent, and scientists simply can’t find any scientific indicators of race.

Some of historical indicators now appear ridiculous. In 1851, Dr. Samuel Cartwright, a Louisiana physician, believed he had found a distinctive difference between blacks and whites. Blacks “tended to run away from slave plantations.” Whites didn’t. He named the affliction, “drapetomania.” (Look it up! Redefined later as: Drapetomania: a Disease Called Freedom)

"All of humanity is a single long-term evolutionary lineage." If we go back 70,000 years, we all come from Africa. But Obama looks like he comes from Africa, and that’s the difference. So when he got elected by those same Americans who seemed to have gone to sleep during Bush’s reign, a sunrise of hope shot across the horizon and covered the whole globe.

A black friend who lives in the States, a fantastic piano player, said he could see the difference in his children over night.
A letter from a school teacher in Boston was rewritten in the New York Times, in its entirety. The 8th grade students, all children of color, were absolutely quiet during chemistry in spite of their excitement, because the teacher promised that the last 20 minutes, they could rewatch Obama’s acceptance speech.

“When else would this be a successful incentive for adolescent children: if you work hard, I'll let you listen silently to a grown-up give a long speech about our political process. I couldn't believe it worked, but it did.

“You remember this part of Obama's speech: ‘This victory is not my victory. It's your's.’ To this, Vianca (one of my most chatty and challenging girls) said out loud: "Yeah, it's my victory!" I looked around at the room of my 28 students - all of whom are people of color - and I saw the future teachers, doctors, artists and Presidents of this country. I almost started crying all over again.”

The world is a crowded place. The easiest thing to do is shut people up. Pacify, confuse, confine or divide them. Keep them scared and so busy they don’t cause any real trouble. But the alternative is to educate, support and empower those beings called humans; to hear and acknowledge them. Of course, the word “them” in that sentence is “us.” We long to be heard; to know our presence counts.

Obama inspired hope. Because of the extent of his life experiences, there are no outsiders. He is a one man melting pot. A little bit of everything. Color, country, creed – whatever. So when he entered the race, disenfranchised, hopeless people came out of the woodwork, worked hard, voted, and when Obama won, they danced and cried in the streets.

So that’s the story, to date. And it stands alone, no matter what. What’s the big deal? Why does it matter?
Because it represents a huge shift in consciousness. The people who marched in 1963, and their children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors, voted in a man with dark skin - not because he was black - but because they believed him to be the best. The color didn’t matter, and therefore the color DID matter - because it didn’t matter. Imagine race not mattering!
It was hope. People were crying in the streets for joy because they felt that a real person, and not a corporate entity or spokesperson for special interests, was before them. Whereas they had felt invisible and voiceless, hope woke them up, and they no longer felt powerless.

A human being did that. A real person can be that earthshaking.

We humans are really important. Because we able to see and hear each other, we make our own and others’ lives meaningful. The mystery of how that happens eludes us, but the mystery remains - we are the ones with stretchable hearts. We are the givers of hope.

The real challenge of our time is to open our consciousness, our hearts, and our vision wide enough to let everyone in.