My Friend, Barack Obama

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on November 6th, 2008

I’m feeling pretty emotional about our president-elect. One reason is obvious –Barack Obama is going to be the first Black president of the United States. This is a truly momentous event to me, a former legal services lawyer in a virtually all-Black neighborhood, and a scholar of the civil rights movement and the Reconstruction eras. Like millions of people all over this country, I also am thinking of the loved ones that I have lost who would have given anything to see this day — my grandparents, who devoted their lives to the cause of civil rights and inter-religious understanding; my Uncle Carl, also a civil rights activist, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for voting rights in Selma, Alabama; and most of all, my dear friend Denise Morgan, a brilliant Black woman law professor who specialized in education rights litigation, whose life was cut tragically short days after her 41st birthday. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few months that I have reached for the cell phone to call Denise and talk about the latest political developments. Denise would have been ecstatic about Obama’s success, and I am certain that she would have bestowed her highest compliment on him — if Obama had gone to law school with us, he would have been our friend.

Barack Obama is my friend – well not really, but I can’t shake the feeling that he easily could be my friend. There have been many close misses. Obama was at Columbia University for two years when I was also a college student there. He worked as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago in the years immediately preceding my time there as a legal services lawyer. He went to law school at the same time as I did, at a rival elite institution just a few hours up the road. There are also the coincidental commonalities. Like me, he met his spouse at work in Chicago, and his two daughters are the same age as my two daughters. Like me and my husband, Barack and Michelle are clearly devoted to each other, and to their children.

In sum, there are many parallels between my life and that of Barack Obama. But that’s not the point. Obama seems like a thoughtful, decent person with a good sense of humor, someone who would be fun to be around. I am certain that there are thousands, if not millions, of people in this country who feel the same way. Throughout this election, the pundits have emphasized Obama’s race, asking whether the American people were ready to elect someone so different from the norm. While it is undeniable that Obama is different from any president we’ve ever had, we the people of the United States of America have gotten to know him, and we’ve gotten to feel that we have a lot in common with him. As a young white Obama supporter here in Toledo told me when explaining why his grandmother, a lifelong Republican, was going to vote for Obama – “she likes him.” Well, Obama’s landslide victory yesterday showed that a lot of us agree with her.


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