Locals offer perspective on historic moment

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kim Metcalfe

In 1958, former Territorial Alaska Governor Ernest Gruening invited John F. Kennedy to visit Alaska. Kennedy's trip included a stop in Juneau and a speech at the Twentieth Century Theater. My grandmother, Nellie Flynn McAlister, was thrilled to meet Kennedy and shake his hand. It was well known at the time that Kennedy had presidential ambitions. My grandmother was a strong Irish Catholic who doubted she would live to see the election of a Catholic president. Her delight at meeting Kennedy was surpassed only by her joy at witnessing his election, an emotion similar to that expressed by African Americans at the election of Barack Obama.

Like my grandmother's support of John F. Kennedy, my support for Barack Obama grew out of a personal desire to see barriers broken. Over the past twenty years, my family has become a "Rainbow Coalition," a true reflection of the America of the 21st century. My nieces and nephews include children who are a wonderful mix of Euro-African and Euro-Asian ancestry. My own children are a mix of Irish, Scottish, German-Jewish, and Greek blood. Obama's election was a message that America's melting pot has come of age.

Barack Obama won this election in large part because he articulated our American dream - we are one people; we can overcome the barriers of racism and poverty; we can ensure that every person in America has access to health care and a good education; we are a moral people.

Barack Obama is a symbol of what is best about America. Let us pray that Barack Obama's shoulders are wide enough and strong enough to bear the enormous burden he has taken on. But the burden is not all his. As he so eloquently has said, "Yes we can." The responsibility also falls on our shoulders. It is my hope that the involvement we saw during the election will continue. Barack Obama changed the American political landscape forever. Now the real work begins, and we must be part of the solution.

• Kim Metcalfe is chair of the Juneau Democrats. She was born and raised in Juneau and works as a union representative.

•••

Kitty Maguire

As my mother lay in her hospital bed, an African-American woman came in to draw her blood.

My father turned to me and said, "See what these people can accomplish when they just put their mind to it."

He was a product of his times, someone who didn't think of himself as racist, who was unfailingly kind to everyone, but who carried the prejudices of his era with him to the end.

I watched the election results with a group of friends in their twenties and thirties. We all shared a sense of relief that the policies of the last eight years would finally be coming to an end. We shared a hope that our country would no longer be defined in terms of winning and losing, of who goes home with the most marbles, but in terms of what is best for the American people and the planet as a whole. The realization of how far we have come as a country left me in tears. For my younger friends, a person of color in the White House was surprising, but had always seemed possible in their lifetime. For me, it was the impossible made manifest and a giant leap towards equality.

In my opinion, this is not the end of an era. Racism, terrorism, economic problems won't end with this administration. But it is a beginning. And that gives me hope. I can't help but wonder what my father would have thought of what Barack Obama has accomplished.

• Kitty Maguire is a local business owner living in Juneau.

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Rosita Worl

President Barack Obama's campaign was a family affair just as I suspect it was for many families throughout Juneau and the country. Each evening, my son and daughter-in-law along with my two grandchildren, Miranda and Ricky, watched the news and election reports. We were ecstatic when he won.

Obama has become a symbol of hope for 'People of Color.' One of the most poignant accounts I've heard is of a father's reaction to his young son's declaration that he too could be president. The father, who lives in Juneau and who is white, was astounded to learn that his young son, who is multiracial, had feared that his color could restrict his success. I imagine that this father had to reflect on why he had been oblivious to his son's fears or the reality of his son's world. I also suspect that this father will see our society in a new light. The lesson he learned offers hope that our society will further come to recognize the benefits of diversity.

As I celebrated in the success of Obama's election, I reflected on the efforts of our grandparents in Southeast Alaska as they struggled through the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood to obtain citizenship for Alaska Natives - the right to vote, the right to attend schools and to secure political and legal rights that were granted to other residents. They were undaunted by the opposition and bequeathed to us the success of their labor.

I will be traveling to the inauguration accompanied by my three older grandchildren to participate in this historic event, to reflect on the dreams of our ancestors and to reaffirm our commitment to build a just society. This is also a time when we can embrace and celebrate the ideals of social and racial equity.

• Rosita Worl (Tlingit, Eagle of the Thunderbird Clan and House Lowered from the Sun of Klukwan) is the president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

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Sherry Patterson

My family lived in a small rural town in Louisiana. I was born and lived in the era of the civil rights movement.

These were times no human being should ever have to endure, but endure we did.

Things such as segregation in my school, using separate restrooms and drinking fountains, using the back door to the doctor's office and waiting for hours until he was done with his white patients before seeing his black patients, sitting in the balcony at the local theater, beatings and lynching were everyday life for those of us born with brown skin.

These events are forever etched in my mind. It was a time in which despair and hopelessness gripped the hearts of all who were a part of my circle. Being and dreaming of better times and achieving greatness for most of us, was just that - a dream.

I was asked to pen my thoughts about the inauguration of Barack Obama, our nation's first African American President. I believe these days are exciting times in our country's history. In the midst of the economic disaster our nation is facing, there is a wind of optimism, hope and change.

Obama has broken through barriers most never thought could be broken in this lifetime. I am elated that Obama's daughters get to live and grow up in the White House. Decades ago, this was just a dream for those in the black community. Our minority children are now enthusiastically saying and really believing, "I can be president!" That thrills my heart! I think of all of the shame, ridicule, hostility and loss of life the black race experienced and endured. Now, that culture, that tremendously rich culture and all it brings, gets to be on display 365 days a year for the next four to eight years. Look out America we're about to get totally different flavor in American History!

• Sherry Patterson lives in Juneau and is an active member of the Black Awareness Association of Juneau.

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Walter L. Carpeneti

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is, to many Americans, a joyous and hopeful event from so many perspectives that one hardly knows where to begin in discussing what it means. But as a lawyer and a judge, I cannot help but think of it as a reaffirmation of the effectiveness of the law as an agent for change that allows all Americans to reach their full potential.

In 1954, when lawyers challenged segregated schools and the Supreme Court held that "separate but equal" was a myth and that the Constitution required that African-American children have access to the same educational resources as white children, the United States was only a few years removed from segregated armed forces; Jim Crow laws remained in effect in much of the land. The implementation of "Brown vs. Board of Education" would be along and difficult fight, but due to the efforts of tireless lawyers and some courageous judges, it would happen.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act promised ballot boxes would be open to all. As with the dream of equal education for all, it has been a long and difficult journey. But due to the efforts of lawyers and judges in enforcing the Act over more than four decades, the promise of open and fair elections has been realized across our country.

In these and many other ways, lawyers and judges have worked to create the conditions in which a man like Barack Obama could reach his remarkable potential, could offer himself as the leader of this country and could be elected by the citizens to its highest office. Many Americans are thrilled that we are about to embark on the Obama presidency; I am proud of the role that lawyers and judges have played in bringing us to this point.

• Walter L. Carpeneti is a judge with the Alaska Supreme Court.

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Beth Kerttula

Every presidential inauguration is a new beginning - a transition from one administration to another. But on rare occasions, perhaps not even once in a lifetime, an inauguration is something more. This feels to me like one of those watershed moments. It's not just one administration handing the baton to another, but it's the beginning of a new era. I have a photograph on my desk of President Barack Obama speaking at the Lincoln Memorial. For me it symbolizes the significance of this moment in history.

This inauguration is not about President George Bush handing the reins to President Obama as much as it is about Abraham Lincoln's dream being realized by our first African American president. This inauguration tells me that our best days are still ahead of us and that our Constitution still works for each of us, not only protecting our right to liberty and equality, but also granting us each the opportunity to improve our condition and the condition of the country at large.

During the campaign Obama told us it is OK to dream again in the United States. He reminded us that hope is not the same as wishful thinking, but that it is the first step on the road to success. Voters responded by placing their trust in him. When President Obama takes the oath of office on Tuesday he will effectively accept that trust and take the first step toward fulfilling it.

I am filled with pride and with confidence that the future is bright. To me this inauguration means the Constitution still works, and that Americans can still accomplish anything and the United States can still be a beacon of freedom and liberty.

• Beth Kerttula is a Democrat and a member of the Alaska House of Representatives.

•••

Ken Cook

As a native of Selma, Alabama I will embrace the inauguration of President Barack Obama dearly. I never thought I would see this day come to life.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt it and now Obama and the American people have achieved it.

This is not just a victory for African Americans, but also a victory for all. I don't think Dr. King would have wanted it any other way.

I believe that we can now say to our children, "You can be whatever your heart and dreams desire to be."

As you reach for your dream remember to do your part. Be responsible for you decisions. Raise your children to be productive citizens. But also allow them to be children - pure and honest - and remember that same seed that was planted within your soul. Teach them that everyone is a child of God and we are all equal and that one day their dreams will be realized.

• Ken R. Cook is the president of the Black Awareness Association of Juneau.

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Thomas Nave

President Barack Obama's inauguration has touched me in a number of ways.

The fact that we, the most powerful nation in the world, enjoy a democratic system that provides for a peaceful transfer of power every four to eight years without fail and without the necessity to achieve that power by coalition, makes me feel proud and grateful.

The fact that we now place character and ability before prejudice and stereotypical considerations, gives me confidence that our country is ascendant rather than declining.

I can't help but feel, though we have rarely faced crises more varied and significant, that our country's future looms ever brighter.

I have hope.

• Thomas G. Nave is a Juneau resident.

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Father Pat Travers

For me, as for so many others in our nation and our world, watching President Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday morning was an experience of tremendous optimism and hope combined with sober realism. The very experience of seeing an African-American take the oath of office as President of the United States reminded me of how many sacrifices by so many people for so many years have just been vindicated in a wonderful way. The pure joy and excitement of the many people gathered to witness this event in person was something that we haven’t experienced in many years. For those of us who have long believed that fundamental change and renewal are essential if the United States is to remain true to itself, the message of transformation that our new President offered is the answer to many aspirations and prayers.

On the other hand, as President Obama reminded us, the road ahead is not going to be an easy one. In addition to the challenges posed by adversaries in other parts of the world, we are burdened by political, economic, and social systems that are founded in selfish, unrealistic attitudes in which we practically all share. The task of “putting away childish things” to which the President invited us is one in which humanity has a poor record of success, at least until disaster strikes. From a worldly standpoint, our hope and optimism might seem naive, even delusional.

From the standpoint of faith in a wise, powerful, and loving God who carries us beyond our human weaknesses and sins, the vision embodied in President Obama’s inauguration is one that is both full of both realism and hope. The many expressions of faith that were made in the course of the inauguration ceremony through word, symbol, and music remind us, as they have reminded Americans of all generations, that it is only in God that we can experience the full measure of our humanity; only in faith that we can experience true freedom.

Father Pat Travers is a pastor at Saint Paul’s Catholic Church in Juneau.



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