If there was one defining moment during Tuesday night's coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's historic presidential victory that crystallized the emotional enormity of this incredible accomplishment it was that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson weeping in the front rows of Chicago's Grant Park celebration. I wept right along with Jesse, as I saw behind the tears of a man who's clawed through six decades of the civil rights struggle and now stood on that proverbial mountaintop and was finally seeing the promised land. As he stood there watery-eyed, hand over mouth, watching the astonishing site of America's first black family on stage, it was impossible not to feel the same pain, anguish, shock, joy and pride that he felt at that precise moment. Though it took 43 years, the march from Selma to Montgomery had truly come to an end right there in Chicago.
How truly lovely it was to see Obama's two precious little girls, Malia, 8, and Sasha, 5, standing proudly with their father, as he and their mother Michelle held each other in what had to have been one of the most incredible moments any two people in love can possibly share. Together, they were the embodiment of the American dream. The quintessential thriving, successful, happy American family. A First-Family that truly inspires. And they're black. We should all shed a tear today, for America has demonstrated its greatness once again. A nation where, just forty years ago, a transcendent black leader was assassinated simply for dreaming the Obama dream. Yes, November 4, 2008 is a day for all Americans to be proud. The first 232 year chapter in United States history has just come to a close. The next, more enlightened, phase has just begun.
Just one year shy of fifty, I am too young to consciously recall much of the violence and racial turmoil of the sixties; it's more like a faint visual backdrop. But I am old enough, however, to have experienced the deep-seated bigotry, and even hatred, towards blacks that a youngster in the seventies encountered on a daily basis even in liberal bastions like New York. I often wondered what it must've been like in places like Mississippi if so many people were so ignorant and angry and intolerant in supposedly culturally-evolved regions like the Northeast.
I grew up at a time when there was no "N-word." It was "nigger," and it was uttered with wanton discrimination. A time when, just 15 or 20 years prior, they hung black people from trees just for being black. I often wondered during my teens, 20's, 30's and even into my 40's whether we'd ever get to that day in America when we could put our prejudice aside and look beyond color to elect a black president. To have a black First Family. To have little black children running mischievously through the Oval Office in that same way we saw little John F. Kennedy Jr. peering out from under his dad's desk. A day when we could come together as a society with common challenges and problems and goals and unite as one in our quest to find the promised land. To be, as Obama said, not just a nation of blue states and red states, but United States. Hard to believe, but that day has finally come.
To be sure, the real work must now start. President Obama (man, that sounds soooo good) has a new mountain to climb, with two wars, terrorism, and the worst economic maelstrom since the Great Depression. And he has the unenviable task of bringing the nation's political process back to the level of bipartisanship where we can once again govern productively, rationally and in the best interests of all of our citizens. He must bridge the divide between Democrat and Republican, a seemingly insurmountable chasm that began with Newt Gingrich back in the 90's and exploded under Bush/Cheney/Delay/Rove. A rift so huge that it miraculously took a 46-year-old no-name black liberal named Barack Hussein Obama to lead this new march. His job will not be easy, but throughout the campaign and his career he has indeed demonstrated the kind of curiosity, intelligence, judgement, resolve and presence of mind, and the ability to inspire, that great leaders are made of.
I am haunted by Jesse Jackson's eyes. I will never forget the raw emotional power in those weepy eyes. How incredible it must've been for him to be standing there Tuesday night, as a victorious Obama looked out onto the masses gathered before him, much as he stood beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. forty years ago in Memphis on that fateful balcony at the Lorraine Motel. If those eyes could talk, and they certainly did last night, they said, "better days are ahead..."
On another subject......TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE for the November 17 Second Annual Adrienne Shelly Foundation Fundraising Gala at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Join us for a terrific evening of music, comedy and film, with scheduled appearances by Paul Rudd, Jeremy Sisto, Cheryl Hines, Mary Louise Parker, Kristen Bell, Lili Taylor, Ally Sheedy, Keri Russell, Gina Gershon and others. To learn more about our mission, to make a tax-deductible donation, and to purchase tickets, please visit our website. Every contribution helps preserve Adrienne's legacy, allows us to help others, and creates something positive out of the tragic loss two years ago of an incredibly loving and talented woman.