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Brian Charles: A new role model for people of all colors

Washington Journal: the Inauguration

Posted: January 9, 2009 6:33 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

B.C. goes to D.C.: Signal Staff Writer Brian Charles' Washington Journal starts today in The Signal and on Join him on his journey to our nation's capital for the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.


Editor's note: Fourth in an exclusive series as Signal Staff Writer Brian Charles prepares to travel to Washington, D.C., to cover the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Christmas parties bring out the truth. Holiday cheer, credit card bills, a countdown to get in those last few tax deductions and egg nog all blend to create an annual truth serum.

At a recent SCV Christmas Party the combination struck a holiday reveler who shouted, "Barack Obama wouldn't do much to change racial realities in the United States." She insisted those realities would become even harsher during his administration because whites would push back against perceived advancement of black Americans.

The woman used a recent experience at a well-known chain restaurant as evidence. She was seated ahead of four other patrons, and claims all of them received their food first, while she never received what she ordered.

To dampen the holiday cheer even more, she asserted the prison industrial complex would continue to thrive under an Obama administration.

Despite her bah-humbug statements to compound the holiday doldrums, she isn't exactly wrong.

I don't imagine Obama will be able to legislate better food service, or change the complexion or size of the world's largest prison population unless we elect him monarch or proclaim him devine.

But the comment made me think about expectations. (A broader conversation on expectations is coming soon.) But I thought about expectations for people who cried with joy the night Obama was elected. My mother's expectations will be met no matter what because of the grandeur of his accomplishment. For my mother, Obama is role model No. 1 for every child, especially those of color.

"At the very least, little black boys can look to a role model who is not an athlete or a rapper," I told the holiday reveler.

I didn't have a role model as a kid. I don't say that to make some point about how tough my life was or how bad the neighborhood was. But role models weren't there. Fathers weren't there either, except one.

Mr. Corley served as youth basketball coach, baseball umpire and general watcher of bad things that boys could get into. But he wasn't a role model. He was my friend Ross Corley's dad. Ross made it out of the neighborhood. He's married with a family and a home in New Jersey. The rest of us talked about our fathers as if they were Santa Claus. Fathers showed up holidays and birthdays, maybe, and walked through the neighborhood park drawing the same attention from the daddy-deprived boys as St. Nick traipsing through Macy's.

I continued to live in the same neighborhood in my 20s and the drought of role models was just as bad. The next generation of boys was more likely to come daddy-included, but with the draw of sports and rap music, daddies rarely occupied the job of role model. Working daddies don't have the swagger requisite to fill the role-model job. Daddies who toil in jobs that don't bring them fame or riches are rarely put on pedestals by little boys.

But now we have Barack Obama, says my father, who sees reason to spend time with his only son now, as his life enters autumn and mine heads into summer.

"We need all our children to be like Obama," my father has oft repeated.

It's not a matter of accomplishment, but rather a matter of consistency.

Adulthood requires consistency and so do careers. It's not what you do on one day or one week that defines you, it is what you do every day and every week.

Obama's consistency comes from waking at 4:30 a.m. to study for school and spending time on the tasks that matter (English, math, science and history), not jump shots, or, in his case, Earth, Wind & Fire lyrics.

Obama as a role model isn't exclusive to black Americans. During a talk with students from Academy of the Canyons, a charter high school on the College of the Canyons campus in Valencia, more than one of the young women in the classroom thought Nov. 4 was breakthrough for all who dream big. Women and any other person of color have no excuse now, a girl said.

The chances Obama will fix racism or cure the social ills that send millions on a track headed straight to jail are slim. But if the young boys and girls of every complexion have someone better than Britney, Lindsey, Paris or Plaxico to look up to, perhaps that's enough.

And if he can also get to oil prices, unemployment, the bailout, Iraq, Iran and China, then my mother will have even more to smile about.


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