Monday, February 22, 2016

Black History

Every picture has a story, and sometimes that story is history.  His story is that he's three years old, and Barack Obama is his hero.  His favorite book is "The White House Pop-Up Book."  And that's President Obama's hand on his cheek, and his mother behind him--she brought him to a Black History Celebration at the White House, the last time the first African American to be President of the United States would be its host.

The photo is an official White House one by Pete Souza.  I've posted several, maybe even many of these over the years.  I favored the ones depicting President Obama with children, particularly children of color.  Children respond to him, and he clearly responds to them.  They say a lot.

This particular photo became the subject of a moving story by Janell Ross in the Washington Post.  Though young Clark is on the other side of the rope line, President Obama stopped to talk to him, and fix his tie.  Ross wrote of the moment:

"The look in Clark's eyes offers one half of America's current story. A country once determined to import and enslave black Americans is now, indeed, led by one. That is a transformation so profound and complex that when another young black child, Jacob Philadelphia, visited the White House in 2009 and asked the then-new president if they have the same hair. Obama bent down and advised Jacob to find out. The answer -- yes -- said much more to Jacob, the millions of Americans who have seen the Souza photo of that moment since. It said, I am like you. You are like me. The most powerful elected office in the world is mine and is truly possible for all of us. Obama reportedly gave the photo a permanent and special home in the White House.

But then, there is Obama's tender touch on Clark's cheek this week. It is another remarkably familiar gesture between strangers which also reveals something deep and true. It speaks to the other half of America's current story. Obama is our president. Still, this remains a country where children who look like Clark, but are perhaps a decade older, are widely regarded as a menace. They are to be feared and contained. Obama's touch says, this child is precious and valuable because of who he is and what he can become. But when Obama said as much -- telling reporters in 2012 that if he had a son, that son would look like Trayvon Martin -- a good portion of America reacted as if that reminder was itself an extreme affront.

On Thursday, before Clark left the White House, President Obama inscribed Clark's favorite book. Clark's mother brought it along. The inscription reads: "To Clark -- Dream big dreams! Barack Obama."

And at the other end of history, also visiting the White House was Virginia McLaurin, who is nearly 107 years old.  She remembers when Hoover was President, the Model T and living before electricity (as many did even in the 1930s.)  And of course, growing up in the South, she remembers segregation, which--if you posit that it effectively ended in 1964, was in force for some 55 years of her life.

She thought she would never live long enough to see a black President--and she was 99 before she did.  But more incredible than that, she made it to the White House, and to meet the President and First Lady.

She was so happy that she danced.  And they danced with her.  In a video that apparently went viral, after being posted on the White House Facebook page.

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