Health & Medicine

Our eyes runneth over with pride

Soon after Barack Obama officially won the Democratic Party's presidential nomination Wednesday evening but before he accepted on Thursday, TV cameras caught black people crying on the floor of the convention.

Apparently filled to overflowing with pride in a day not many people expected to see in America, a day when a black man would have a legitimate chance to be president of the United States of America, those people knew they had witnessed history unfolding.

We've had so little to celebrate since arriving in America, when compared with other ethnic groups.

All black people, despite our political leanings or affiliations, should take a bit of pride in Obama's success.

Here is a black man — married, the father of two, a college graduate and a hard worker who excelled — who followed the instruction manual for the American dream we've all had a chance to read but never truly believed was meant for us.

No fear of success held him back, no timidity about traveling a path covered still by untrampled grass.

He dared, indeed, to break the external and internal shackles that had long held black people on the sidelines of equality.

So, I understood the tears. So did the Rev. George Russell of Lexington, a retired United Methodist minister.

"I am very much enthused for this possibility," he said of Obama's candidacy. "He has already made history, and if he wins in November, that would be something."

Russell lived and pastored in the deep South during the early days of the civil rights movement.

At 87, he has seen a lot of positive changes for African-Americans, especially in these latter years, he said.

"We have come from such a struggle, from slavery to the brink of being president of the U.S.," he said.

Russell, like so many other black people, nearly burst with the joy of having a black man vying for the highest office in the land as quickly as they shrink with shame when members of the race take a more negative route. We are sometimes forced to ride the waves of public perception together, sometimes with regret.

This is a good time, though.

"I think for our race, it would open up so many opportunities, open up possibilities for the younger generations," he said. "I can point to him and tell the younger ones they can do it, too."

But Obama didn't have anyone to point to. He had no path to follow.

"More power to him for that," Russell said, "but since he has done that, now we have an example to point to. And I won't hesitate to point to it."

An Obama candidacy or even presidency will not automatically make things easier or more equitable for African-Americans, he said.

"It might be a little easier if he becomes president," Russell said. "But everybody is not going to get there on a flower bed of ease. It will make the opportunity better."

What about Russell personally, though? Did he ever think he would see this day?

"No. I didn't think I would see this," he said. "We have come such a long way, and it has been so slow, though the pace has picked up in the latter years.

"I never thought I would live to see an African-American nominated to be a presidential candidate of a major political party" in the United States.

"For me personally, it just makes me proud to be an African-American."

Not that he hasn't always had a sense of pride about his race.

"But not to the extent as it is now," he said. "This underscores that."

Obama might not win this race. He might not even come close. People can do what they wish in the privacy of a voting booth.

But many African-Americans have learned to find encouragement in a baby's first steps, knowing full well that a walk around the block is a long way off.

No flower bed of ease, indeed, but better than a dust bowl.

That's why the tears flowed and the pride welled.