Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We built it, now we live in it

Today my school celebrated the inauguration by watching from the pews in the large, beautiful church next door. It's hard to describe the energy that coursed through the building as Obama took the oath and made his speech. Often times as a teacher you find yourself monitoring the experience of your students at the expense of your own experience. You want to make sure they understand the significance of whatever it is you put in front of them and learn the "lesson" you're trying to teach. You want to make sure that the kids "get something out of it," no matter what "it" is. This puts you in a weird position because often times you don't get to experience "it" yourself.

But that wasn't what happened today. The kids around me cheered at every opportunity and booed during all the right moments (I had to stifle a tear when someone said Rick Warren looked like a walrus). The result was that I could be a fellow participant in the moment, rather than an interpreter or instructor. That felt good.

During all the latest hype about Obama, I've had some cynical thoughts about the way that power works and how true change has never come that easy. There's got to be a trap her, right? I guess it's comparable to the feeling I had when I was in 9th grade and Mandela was freed from prison and elected president of South Africa. But, come to think of it, that worked out pretty well. Not perfectly, but pretty daggone well.

Well, the truth is that Obama is bound to disappoint us on some level. Our expectations are too high, too undefined, too too. He's a flawed man and his policies will be similarly flawed. He's raised a lot of money, made a lot of promises, become beholden to a lot of interests to get where he's gotten to.

But even if his whole presidency is a flop and (God forbid!) people even pine for the good old days of W, something has changed today. Today I sat with hundreds of children as they watched a Black man take the oath of office to be president--something that seemed impossible just a few years ago. Today these children saw a sense of possibility that was not there yesterday. And a sense of possibility is one of the most powerful things you can ever release into the world. Whatever is to come, no one knows, but today was a good day.

Update: As if all the overpowering symbolism of the day wasn't enough, peep the stained glass windows of the church:

And if you're wondering, that is a slaveship inside the body of Christ. Deep.


Lydia (of IU English fame) said...

That's a beautiful church - for a beautiful day. Your post expresses my excitement and anxiety better than I can. Nicely done!

I hope you're doing well in Chitown.

Abdel Shakur said...

Thanks, Lydia!

Jackson said...

"A sense of possibility is one of the most powerful things you can ever release into the world."

Well said. And Abdel, working in the public schools, you know this better than anyone: One of young people's (heck, anybody's) greatest roadblocks to success is their being told that they can't do something. Obama's inauguration does a lot to remove some of those implicit roadblocks, but it can't stop there.

You're right, Obama could never live up to public expectations; as you said, he's "too too." It's an important recognition because it puts the onus on us to get busy "releasing our own possibility" into the world to inspire the next generation, who will inherit the task of remaking the country after us.