'Not in my lifetime' attitude fades in black community following Obama presidency

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The phrase "not in my lifetime" doesn't have the same cynical ring it once had in the black community following President Obama's inauguration Tuesday.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"I think it's very exciting, I never thought in my lifetime that I would see this historic event. I never dreamed (it)," said Sherry Patterson, an active member of Juneau's Black Awareness Association. "I'm from the deep South and I've lived through a lot of hostility and torment and ridicule and harassment because of the color of my skin. I've lived it. To see what is occurring now, what's happened, seems very surreal. But, at the same time, I'm quite elated. Like I said, I never dreamed I would see it, maybe my children or grandkids - but here we are."

Patterson was born in Louisiana in 1955, part of a generation that grew up as second-class citizens but has witnessed a role reversal previously unimaginable in a single lifetime.

"As a young child, I experienced sitting in the back of the bus, or going in the back door of a doctor's office and waiting all day 'till he was through his white patients and gave us his last, exhausted bits of the day. Sitting in balcony of a theater, colored restrooms, oh yeah, I lived it," Patterson continued. "And to see the beginning, I would say, of Dr. King's dreams come true, this is a big one, this is huge."

Ken Cook, president of the Black Awareness Association, a native of Selma, Ala., grew up as Jim Crow was coming undone, after Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"Being a kid, hearing you can be anything you want to be, you'd think, 'Yeah, that might be possible'," said Cook, 43. "But someone like Barack Obama, that dream is no longer a myth. It's a reality that you can work hard, get educated, be a productive citizen, do what you're supposed to and be what you want to be, no matter your race."

Or gender, Cook threw in, referring to Gov. Sarah Palin's run at the vice presidency.

To Cook, the most palpable change stemming from Obama's ascent was a collective feeling of welcome instead of mere tolerance.

"Yes I'm very excited he's African-American, yes, but that enough people in the United States and around the world embraced him, that's the biggest thrill to me now, the closest thing to my heart," Cook said. "For a moment in the United States and around the world, I really felt that color didn't matter. I'll be even more excited if he does what he says he wants to do."

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