As I walked to my school in the heart of the inner city the day after the election, I saw a sign that the day before, had GUNZ tagged on it, and it had been painted over to read OBAMA! Today, I saw a billboard that had previously been completely defaced with graffiti, covered over with posters of Obama, with “Change” written in three different languages. I don’t even have to explain the symbolism.
Recently, I did a post about how the gang graffiti at my school has been replaced by support for Obama. A spirited discussion ensued. My take was that I was excited that my students were getting involved in the political process, and I saw the hope they had for their future expand in a way I'd never seen before. In a town where there has already been over 100 murders this year, seeing any movement toward a positive change was, to me, encouraging.
Others fixated on the fact that there was graffiti, and assumed that because my students were excited for Obama, there was a pro-Obama lesson plan distributed to all teachers. Of all the messages in my post, I found it so shocking that the theme pulled out of my posting was “Graffiti is bad and gone unchecked, turns kids into juvenile delinquents!” If anyone has actually read my blog, they would know that I try to turn graffiti into positive art, and disdain the graffiti in my school so much that I made my boys group paint over it as their group project. The point I was making is that despite the manner in which they expressed their excitement, they were expressing excitement about a positive change.
The day after the election, one of my young counselees, a 10-year old African American boy who has told me he doesn’t think he’ll live past age 18 because of the violence in his community, came bounding in my office with a huge grin on his face. He said, “Dr. Bell! Dr. Bell! Do you know who won the election?” I played dumb and said, “No, tell me!” At that point he stuck his ears out with his hands and said, “I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message!” He burst into giggles, something I had never seen before. Then, he earnestly asked, “Do you think I could be Barack Obama someday?” For a kid who has been so depressed he doesn’t think he needs to do homework because he’s just going to get shot and killed, it was so moving to see him have hope.
Whether or not you endorsed McCain or Obama, and whether or not Obama comes through on all his promises or not, it is a hard argument to make that our children of color do not benefit from having a high status role model like Obama. He has already changed the collective unconscious of our students, and inspired engagement in learning and participating in civics. I encourage everyone to watch this little boy talk about Obama and tell me that’s not powerful.