When I was a kid I remember hearing and declaring that I could be anything I wanted to be, which included being the president of the United States. In my African-American neighborhood and school, it was routinely declared and I remember believing it. My confidence was shaped by this encouragement.
When I became an adult that confidence was replaced with what I began to believe as reality. "A black man would never be president." I sat across from a very good white friend who declared in a very serious conversation that it would never happen. Were my teachers wrong? Were they just optimistic fools that were not living in reality? Just crazy people with idealistic dreams who would dare to believe things could be different?
Tonight I sit in a coffee shop owned and run by a black man and a white man. A white man enters with two black young adults, and they sit down together to watch the election coverage. Three young ladies enter, two white and one black; four others enter, three white and one Indian. Three other African-American men sit in the room captured by the scene unfolding around the country.
Tonight an African-American man has been elected for president, one who has helped us to believe things can change. I look around the coffee shop and I think perhaps Barack Obama has tapped into the dream that is sitting in this shop. There are black and white people, young and old, wealthy and poor, and tonight a black man has pulled us together and tells our story. For every person that has hoped against the impossible; for every person who decided to keep believing; for every person who has been looked down on, laughed at, beaten, hosed and hung. Tonight we celebrate. Tonight we cheer. There is still work to do, but not much seems impossible tonight.
My son who is away at college texted me, and said "Dad are you watching? I love you." And I cried, because every moment I had told him he was the same as anyone else, and could do and be whatever he wanted to be, was validated.
Leroy Barber is president of Mission Year, a national urban initiative introducing 18- to 29-year-olds to missional and communal living in city centers for one year of their lives. He is also the pastor of Community Fellowships Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of New Neighbor.