When I was in the third grade at Marshall Elementary School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I was asked to pilot the composition and production of a school play. After minimal thought on my part, but a lack of interest from my classmates, I stepped up to the plate to take first bat. Overwhelmed with creativity, and forethought bursting from my brains like a fireworks finale on the fourth of July, I was anxious about both its construction and end product. The opportunity provided me a chance to create a masterpiece that would not only be purpose driven, but one that would be remembered in my school for years to come. I didn’t exactly know how to write a play but I knew that I wanted to make a difference. And so that semester, I wrote, directed, and produced my very first theatrical stage play. I made costumes and designated script roles. My teachers and school mates alike were quite taken aback, and thought it was the most improbable thing any – one eight year old student had ever employed.
At the time, I hadn’t considered any of the responsibilities that came along with being a leader – the director of a play. In fact, I may not have even known what true obligation was. But I knew that my ultimate objective was to inspire, instruct, and to invoke – the very minds of those other eight year-olds who feared the challenge the most. I was excited. I was resourceful. I felt inspired. I was ready.
What I didn’t realize until much later on in grade school and well into my young adult hood was that leading anything is a divine responsibility. Leadership isn’t something you necessarily learn in a textbook or from a conversation; part of it is innate. Leadership is an “accountable” gift that is given to us – the kind we have to answer for – and answer to. While some understand that everyone can’t possibly be a leader in this life, others understand that everyone can’t possibly be a follower either. What we do commonly recognize, is that everyone is born with the ability to serve – in some capacity or another, and that a balance of both leading and following are required for our survival and mere existence.
Commonly called “Barry” throughout his childhood, Barack Hussain Obama II was an emerging star from the very beginning. Born of multiracial heritage, he understood from childhood the essence of leadership, citizenship, and sportsmanship. From grade school in Jakarta, Indonesia to high school in Honolulu, Hawaii, to college in Los Angeles, California then off to The Big Apple, Barack was a scholar, a leader, a mentor, an organizer, and an activist within the community and in his own right. In February of 1981, he made his first public speech, calling for Occidental’s divestment from South Africa. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983 with a concentration in Political Science and International Relations, he moved to Chicago where he was hired as Community Organizer by Developing Communities Project, a church based community organization. He helped blacks fight for their rights from the city government and helped improve the living conditions in neighborhoods that were much less affluent.
Barack felt a strong connection to the field of law. He saw it as a medium which could facilitate activism and community association. This “fever” encouraged him to enter Harvard Law School in 1988, where he was elected as the president of law review by his second year. Not surprisingly, his role as editor-in-chief and supervisor of the law review staff of more than 80 editors was no oversight. From his second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming The American Dream, he won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for audio version of this book. Amongst his many talents are his impeccable speech and oratory skills, introspective and prolific writing, and genuine love for community, family, culture, and country.
A natural born advocate and leader of change, Barack organized the largest voter registration drive, Project Vote, in the history of Chicago during the 1992 election. The goal of this project was to register more than 150,000 African Americans in the state who were unregistered; Barack exceeded this target. Since the passing of the Voting Rights Act, African Americans have voted and have been elected to public office in increasing numbers. As of 2008, there were approximately 10,000 African American elected officials in America. Amongst them was Barack Obama. He strongly worked for ethics reforms and criminal justice reform. From 1997 to 2004, Barack went on to serve three terms in the Illinois State Senate. By July of 2004, he illuminated the stage with his inspiring speech at the Democratic National Convention. Often compared to that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, today, Barack Obama stands as one of the most balanced, enthusiastic, distinctive American leaders of our time.
After working for more than twenty years as a community organizer, a civil rights attorney, a constitutional law professor, a State Senator and then a U.S. Senator, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States of America on November 4, 2009, and is the first African American President in the history of America. Far before Barack Obama became the President of the United States, he exuded leadership qualities that were diverse, progressive, and calculated. From the time he worked as a community leader, Executive Director of Project Vote, Attorney, Senior Lecturer, Author, State Senator, U.S. Senator, to date as President, Barack Obama has defined excellence – and defied failure. His mantra, Yes We Can, has made him a favorite of many Americans, and it continues to diffuse the message of HOPE across the globe.
February 21st is noted and honored as Presidents’ Day in the United States. It is a day Americans pause to honor their national leaders, beginning with the first President, George Washington. From April 30, 1789, when George Washington stood on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, to January 21, 2009 when Barack Obama stood on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, we as a people understand the significance of commemorating this very position on this very day. We understand that our leaders are the initiators of change.
Every country needs a leader, because leadership is essential to getting things done. People often get confused as to what makes a good leader. Being a good leader is never about having or exercising power or authority over a subject or group of people. It isn’t about gaining a reputation or about being acknowledged. Nor does it always require moving heaven and earth. A leader is someone who helps others do and become more than they ever imagined they could. A leader is someone who knows oneself when faced with challenges or ethical choices, communicates well with those who have different ideas and opinions, and makes wise decisions and identifies sources of satisfaction. A leader is an individual of resolve. Being an effective leader requires commitment, strength, and purpose. I thank God for President Barack Obama, and for showing us how to take the lead.
“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” – Cornel West
Love for your Tuesday. Celebrate Black History, this month and every month!