where the writers are
April 4, 1968—Chicago. I was eight years old when I saw my city burn. The fire began across the street – a four-lane divide called South Shore Drive – and spread west as far as I could see. Along the road, people were screaming, crying, throwing rocks, bricks, destroying their own homes, their shops, and churches. Paddy wagons raced up and down the road, as did fire trucks and police cars.   A king had died.   My mother had run into the living room when it was announced on the T.V. She had been cooking and wore an apron. She pointed at the set with a dripping spoon. “What did they just say?    “That king was shot,” I replied. “Martin Luther King.” She dropped into a chair. Then, from outside, came the first shout.   We lived in a twenty-two story apartment building on Chicago’s near south side. It, along with several other identical structures, was a product of Chicago’s extensive “urban revitalization” program created to house the city’s growing influx of working-class immigrant families: Russian, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Israeli, Italian, Hispanic, Black, White. Together we romped in Lake Meadows two sprawling playgrounds, glided around its ice-skating rink, had birthday parties at its community center. It was a safe and clean place, and it was a complete contrast to what lay across the street—an endless expanse of run-down three-story brown-brick homes with shabby porches, crumbling sidewalks, and sooty chimneys. Places where men crouched in front of doorways pitching pennies at the walls, and children, largely dressed in ragged clothes, jumped rope or played in the open hydrants. I didn’t know the people who lived across the street, and only knew their neighborhood by one name: slum.   Now that slum was burning, and with it all the hopes that Martin Luther King had carried into those streets and even I, as just a child, felt the loss.A Chicago

My parents had done their best to try to explain the disparity between what we had, which seemed to be everything, and what our neighbors had, which was clearly very little. They had sat me down and explained the subject of prejudice, and slavery, and voting rights, and bussing. How hard it was for “Negros” to get the education and the jobs necessary to climb out of those ghettos. It is wrong, they would tell me, but things are changing. Soon after, I was told that I should no longer refer to my African American friends as Negro. “We’re Black,” a friend at school said.” Then she raised a fist. “Black Power!” she shouted. I was very impressed, and I remember wondering as I watched the fires smolder, what my friend was thinking and doing now that the man that had helped give her that strength was dead. Would she still call herself Black? Would she still raise her fist and demand power?

I thought of that young girl again the night Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama. I wondered if she was one of the many thousands of people standing in Grant Park waiting to hear her newly elected President speak. She’d be almost fifty years old now, probably a mother, maybe a grandmother. Maybe she was holding her grandchild up on her shoulders to see for themselves just how far his or her future could reach.

Some people say, why focus on Obama’s race? Some people say, he’s white too – why not talk about that, as well? Both are reasonable questions, but both do not suffice when looking at the sea people that gathered in Grant Park on that remarkably beautiful November evening. Race was an issue that night. Race was the reason there were so many tears not just on the black faces, but on the faces of people in every time zone on this planet. Race has always been a line of demarcation saying who is to be trusted, who is more fit, who is more ready, who is more easily sacrificed. But on that Tuesday, the United States took its promise of equality seriously and said we are indeed a country of "opportunity for all."

To ignore the impact of that, is to ignore all the struggle that existed to get our country to that day.

I am proud of the United States: proud of my city of birth, proud of young voters, proud of all the people who worked on the campaign, proud of my friends, and proud of the little girl who, forty years earlier, had raised her fist in the air and demanded power. 


3 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Impressive! Though I am not

Impressive! Though I am not part of the American community, reading this touches my heart...  This disparity based on race is maybe on its death-bed with the election of Obama.. But I think there is other bases now which I do not know require whose fist to be raised.

Comment Bubble Tip

When the heart speaks

When the heart speaks,it always says the truth.That's the case with your piece.Very touching.