Last year, while writing about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I noted that I would set aside the Flashback Friday posts in February to highlight stories about Black history. Today is the first of the first of these posts under the dedicated feature of this blog. Last month, I watched—along with about 24 million other people—the farewell address of the outgoing President of the United States. Since I’ve become more coherent in my understanding of the world, at-large, I’ve been fortunate to listen in on three Presidential farewell addresses—in January 2001, in January 2009, and last month. I’ve always seen them as very interesting speeches as the outgoing Presidents often tout their accomplishments and what they perceive the health of the nation to be as they are leaving office. This most recent farewell address was especially unique and interesting…partly because it ends an era I don’t think we’ll see again in my lifetime. The President spoke with such fervor about his time in the Oval Office and about the accomplishments of his administration. It reminded me of the first time I heard him speak. That brings me to this week’s Black history subject in the Flashback Friday series: Barack Obama’s Democratic National Conference keynote address.
How I first came across this moment? I came across the keynote address of the junior senator from Illinois—as he was at the time—the same as just about everybody else: on live television.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, I was first captured by the way he spoke so confidently, so full of energy. Everything that I learned in Public Speaking as a freshman in college the year before was on full display in his speech. The hand gestures were really good. He nailed all of the pauses perfectly. He spoke clearly and plainly…easily understood by those with even the simplest of educational backgrounds. He had some great lines in that speech. A couple that quickly come to mind are “they imagined me going to the best schools in the land even though they weren’t rich…because in a generous America, you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential” and “hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope…in the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us: the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead”. As I sat on my sofa watching this address, those two quotes resonated with me. There I was at 19, not only an Airman First Class in the United States Air Force but also a college student at The Ohio State University…a school far greater in prestige than those my parents attended…a school that they didn’t have to pay a dime for me to attend thanks to the generosity of America in the form of a benefactor. There I was…a kid who grew up in the projects on Birmingham’s Westside, forging my way towards “better places, bigger things, and different dreams” with the belief that I could do it as long as I believed in myself. It was a powerful speech…one of the best I had ever heard in my life at that point. That keynote address—pretty much a glorified stump speech for the Democratic nominee in the 2004 Presidential election—as well as a few other things from the first 4 years of the George W. Bush administration compelled me to vote for Senator John Kerry in that fall’s election.
What it means to me now? It’s been 12 ½ years since I first heard that speech. At 32, I’m a long way from the teenager I was in the Summer of 2004. A lot has changed in my life since then. I’ve gone on to graduate from The Ohio State University, picking up a Bachelor of Science degree. I’ve added a couple of other Associate degrees and a Master’s degree. I went from being a pipsqueak Airman First Class in the United States Air Force to being the gold standard for the junior enlisted on an entire military installation to finishing my career as a decorated non-commissioned officer. I’ve gone from being kid from the bricks in Birmingham who didn’t have much of anything to a well-established man who has gained his measure of what the world has had to offer him. And for me, it started with Obama’s speech. It’s the reason why there is an Item 26 on my bucket list…so that I can give my own inspirational keynote address that will move people.