Regardless of what your political leanings are, you cannot argue the fact that we are living in a precarious time.
When dead school children are not even safe from becoming fodder for political debate, the shark has thoroughly been jumped. Writing or talking about anyone who has now, or who has ever held a political office, is literally just inviting unpleasantness in the form of internet trolls and break room bureaucrats. But facts are still facts.
With the exception of the tin foil hat class, certain things cannot be disputed: Barack Obama graduated from Columbia University in 1983. He eventually went on to Harvard Law School and became the first African-American to become the president of the Harvard Law Review, but not before taking a break from his studies for a few years to work for $2,000 a month as a community organizer in Chicago.
So you have to ask yourself why a recent graduate of a prestigious college took a job as “community organizer” in a city like Chicago for such a small salary. The answer can be found by googling the name “Harold Washington.” Harold Washington was the first black mayor of Chicago and his campaign, vision, and demeanor influenced Obama in ways more immense than I can explain here.
In short, Harold Washington was an extremely intelligent and highly articulate African-American who had a vision for his people, and most especially, his people who resided in the poverty-ravaged south side of Chicago.
Obama knew this was going on as he was wrapping up his undergraduate studies at Columbia University in New York, and instead of looking for an entry level position at Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch as most of his classmates did, he went to Chicago to be part of the action.
He worked tirelessly in that city fighting for the poor to have the toxic asbestos removed from their apartments, registering hundreds of thousands to vote, creating jobs where there were none, and advocating for the elderly. It’s a pretty impressive three-year span of accomplishment.
And while his detractors at the Republican National Convention a few years later, tried as hard as they could to poke fun at what they saw as a soft and irrelevant job, Obama was too firmly set in his vision to care one way or the other. He grew up with images of the Civil Rights movement as the due north of his moral compass. In his autobiography Dreams From My Father, he wrote:
“Such images became a form of prayer for me, bolstering my spirits, channeling my emotions in a way that words never could. They told me that I wasn’t alone in my particular struggles and that communities have never been a given in this country. At least not for blacks. Communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens. They expanded or contracted with the dreams of men and with the civil rights movement those dreams have been large. That was my idea of organizing. It was a promise of redemption.”
Whatever your opinion is or was of this man, one important reality is not up for debate: he was not naïve about his own intelligence, charm, and talents; he had a vision to pull his people out of the margins using these attributes and any others he could muster along the way.
He was not driven to become the first African-American president for any other reason than to fight for the disenfranchised masses. He had a kindness and love in his heart to see what needed to be done and the ruthlessness to do whatever it took to accomplish it.
WBEZ Chicago, those fine people responsible for giving us such important podcasts as, “This American Life,” “Serial,” and “S-Town,” have now gifted us with the six-part series “Making Obama.” It is an incredibly produced series hosted by Jenn White and produced by Colin McNulty.
The coolest thing is, even though Obama has been somewhat reticent since leaving office, he sits down with White and graciously gives the interview that ties the whole thing together. You get to hear from his friends, a few of his enemies, and many of the people who helped him in his meteoric rise to the presidency.
This podcast was made for binging. You will undoubtedly be moved when all of the bullsh*t is stripped away, and you are able to fully grasp the scope of this man’s vision. It too, held the promise of redemption.
Author: Billy Manas
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen