The Obama Challenge

Michelle and Barack ObamaThe life of a politician is one of many twists and turns. It is a high-profile position and one that requires the public servant to be accountable for every single action. Perhaps no public office is under more scrutiny than the Head-of-State. President-Elect Barack Obama will soon find out the highest level of accountability required in such a lofty post.

During the Presidential campaign against Senator John McCain, Obama championed the notion of “CHANGE”. He successfully leveraged this idea into a high-powered campaign that captured the imagination of people around the world. There were many opinion polls and articles written about Obama. Countless stories, blogs and YouTube clips have been created… some unflattering, some effusive in praise, some in between. However, there is a type of excitement in U.S. politics that has not been seen in some time.

The Obama Effect in the Black Community

Obama will be inaugurated on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC becoming the first person of African ancestry to hold the position. What does this do for the Black community? Certainly, Blacks in America (regardless of nationality or origin) will still face discrimination and racism. Police brutality will remain a fixture in America as seen by recent incidents. The impact of an Obama administration will not be seen for months (or years). Where we may see a more immediate impact is among the younger generation around the world… particularly young Black men in America.

Barack Obama

President-Elect Barack Obama

Obama’s youthful, clean-cut look combined with his strong wife and adorable daughters will provide hope for the fledgling institution of marriage in the Black community. Perhaps it will give young men an idea that they do not have to be athletes, entertainers, rap stars, or even “gangsters” in order to make a mark. These industries are over-glamorized and have given many young men an unrealistic sense of hope.

It was uplifting. It was something that you can tell your kids, you really can become anything now. You don’t have to become a basketball player.

~LeBron James, NBA basketball superstar

Media images most associated with Black men in America are athletes and entertainers. These positions hold influence, fame, fortune and a lavish lifestyle that is promoted in American society. Media outlets have even gotten to the point where they are enlisting people like Charles Barkley, Chris Rock, D.L. Hughley and P. Diddy as thought leaders for the Black community.

While there is nothing wrong with choosing one’s career of choice, athletics and entertainment are too often viewed as the only viable options for a young boy from the inner cities of America. Obama’s image shows that you can be a “baller,” can be intelligent, speak well, have a successful career and a family. Despite many professional Black men across America, this imagery is rarely seen in the media.

Stony the Road we Trod

Frederick Douglass

If Obama does nothing spectacular in his first four years, America will have his image and story to ponder. This alone is unprecedented given the cynicism that pervades American politics and the Black community. The fact that Obama had a decidedly different upbringing and worldview will raise interesting questions and lead to substantive discussions on politics, age, race, gender, nationality and class. He will also have his fierce critics. This grassroots politician learned his craft on the tough streets of Chicago. How much of that training will prepare Obama for the highest office in the land?

The Black National Anthem has a line, “stony the road we trod.” Obama is standing on the shoulders of giants who have trod that stony road and who sought to give the world a new political reality. One man who embodied such spirit was politician, orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), who perhaps more than any of Obama’s predecessors (including activist Dr. M.L. King), had blazed a trail of political consciousness. It is unfair to label Obama as the new “Messiah,” or as one who can eliminate the world’s deepest social problems. However, he has already walked the stony road and paved the way for countless others… just as others had done for him. His journey upon this road will be discussed in eternity.

All the best!


  1. No… the “dream” has not yet been realized. People are naive if they believe that there will be substantial changes economically in the Black community. In fact, it will get worse with the economic downturn. I have former MBA students who are being downsized from large corporations. Other graduates have had offers rescinded. From henceforth, Blacks will only be able to secure jobs that we help to create.

    In the next four years (hopefully less), I am hopeful that we will see the end of three trends (1) sagging pants (2) public do rags and (3) excessive tattooing. The sagging and tattoos come from prison culture. To make matters worse, it is copied by young men in Africa. What is this business of getting tattoos on the neck and covering the arms with tattoos? How will you look at age 40 or 50? The travesty is that college students have adopted these trends and you sometimes can’t tell the educated from uneducated. Obama’s daily imagery for four straight years should send quite a message… not only in terms of appearance, but in his resolute and strong character.

    Not long ago, Obama was a community organizer in Chicago. I’m sure young men in Altgeld Gardens wondered who this man was. Young boys in the inner-city do not often see these type of men even though the majority of Black men are upstanding citizens. I am a member of organizations and I remain critical because the best and brightest, Black men (especially the professionals) do not interact with the youth on a consistent basis.

    At least young brothers from the “hood” will now see a daily image. Obama will not be enough… we have to come out of our cushy homes. We should be even more motivated to engage in mentoring. Of course, chess is a perfect outlet for mentoring and coaching. Let’s build a new image.

  2. Daaim – Unfortunately your words about the foibles of our black youth, especially males, rings too true. As I work with youngsters I try to point out that there is no future in emulating “gangsta” behavior. Sure, it’s fine to be entertained by pop culture, which today means hip-hop music and fashion. After all I remember my mom telling me more than once back in the 70’s to get a haircut and turn down that “funky” music. And I had the coolest blue suede platform shoes!

    But don’t let the entertainment become your vision of how to build a life. Sipping Crystal champagne with the homies and hoochies is just a fiction. No one really lives that way, nor for long anyway. Those who try end up some combination of incarcerated, shot or dead.

    Hopefully President Obama’s story will establish a new role model for young black men … you can shoot hoops with the brothers, and enjoy the good things in life, as I’m sure he does, but you need to take care of business. Which means not only getting an education, but using it … to earn an income, build a family and a community, and maybe even to lead a nation.

  3. The theme for the U.S. inaugural celebration is “WE ARE ONE.” This notion will be tested as it has since 1776. Never before has America even uttered these words before despite a similar phrase is printed on the dollar notes… “epluribus unum.”

  4. Text of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address on Tuesday, January 20th as delivered.

    My fellow citizens:

    I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

    Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

    So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

    That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

    These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

    Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

    On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

    On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

    We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

    In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

    For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

    For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

    For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

    Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

    This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

    For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

    Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

    What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

    Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

    As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers … our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

    Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

    We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

    For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

    To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

    To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

    As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

    For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

    Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

    This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

    This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

    This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

    So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

    Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).

    America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

    Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

  5. In case you didn’t know, the university marching band performing for the President is Florida A&M University, the school where I’m a professor. It is reputed to be the world’s best marching band… it has more than 400 members, but is called the “Marching 100”. Unfortunately they didn’t have room to do their amazing choreography!

    Florida A&M Marching Band
    at Presidential Inauguration

  6. I was at the inauguration. It was wonderful, and truly moving and inspiring experience. He won’t solve all problems, but he will have a slow, steady influence that will accumulate as the years go on, even after his Presidency. It won’t be fast, but the effect will be real. It already is.

  7. What is the Obama Challenge—The First Ten Days

    It has been 10 days since President Obama has took the oath of office at his inauguration in Washington D.C. And he has hit the ground running by creating legislation for an $800 billion stimulus package in the house and senate. He has signed an executive to close Guantanamo Bay within a year. He also ordered the closings of secret CIA “ghost prisons” and the cessation of advanced interrogation techniques. He has also reversed a policy that restricted federal aid to be delivered to organizations that promote or provide abortions overseas.

    President Obama has allowed states like California to decide their own emissions and fuel efficiency standards. The President also gave his first television interview as president with Dubai-based al-Aribiya. He has also approved equal-pay legislation–“Ledbetter’s Law.” It was the first bill he signed into law. In addition, President Obama created a middle class working families task force to be headed by Vice President Joe Biden. And he also signed a series of pro-union executive orders. President Obama is keeping his word.

    Whew! This to me is the real Obama challenge; if each of us can work as hard and change the world around us as Obama has done in his first ten days, then what our people will realize the dreams our ancestors fought so hard for and could not see. The ultimate world I want to see is where the first black president is no big deal. Then I will know that white supremacy and empire are dead. The Obama challenge as I see it is to say that the world I dreamed about is within our grasp.

    The world is what we would have it be, if we are smart and strong enough to take it. Like on the chessboard, good things happen to the player who works harder. I see the Obama challenge as a commitment to struggle. I will answer his call to arms! Will you?

    Peter Roberts, Harlem NYC

  8. It will be interesting to see how long he lasts .The word asssasination looms .Obama, was codenamed “Renegade” by his Secret Service detail on the campaign trail.Obama is similar to Lincoln in his ambition to bring changes to the country and has frequently cited the slain president who led the abolitionism movement during his campaign.

  9. I talked to Pontus Carlsson in Germany and he also feels that President Obama will not make four years. If he doesn’t make it, then you can rest assured that this country will go into ruin… much worst than now. Since my father served in the Secret Service (under J.F. Kennedy) and released his book last year, I’m sure it would become the hottest ticket in the world.

    If someone takes a shot at him, it will certainly NOT come from the Middle East or so-called “terrorists” … it will most likely come from racist militia/terrorists here. They’d better not allow anyone a chance to throw at the President as they did with Bush. That was a nightmare.

  10. I’m sure many around the world have heard that a number of Americans do not want the PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES Barack Obama to address their children on the virtues of education and working hard. Can you imagine that? They are branding this national address to students as “socialist” indoctrination in the style of Kim Jung-Il and Saddam Hussein. It is really sad.

    As an educator at a university, these are the same things I reinforce to my students. I tell them about my travels and the hard-working students in other countries. My students listen to me, but why haven’t they got this memo earlier… in elementary school?

    It does quite a bit of good to have this reinforcement since the American educational system has largely been falling behind the past 20-25 years. American students are largely ignorant of geography, humanities, current events and many have a greater interest in crass pop culture and cell phones. It’s an abomination and an embarrassment.

    I have seen a negative change in the attitude of college students coming in. Why? Because they weren’t taught much civics prior to coming. Now you have parents trying to block the PRESIDENT from addressing their civically-challenged children. They call Obama a socialist, but if you ask the detractors what socialism is, they would not be able to tell you anything about Lenin, Marx, Engels or the tenets of which they wrote. It is “red terror” all over again.

    I am not advocating that he speak because he is Obama, but because he is a credible person with something positive to say to our kids. It makes my job a lot more purposeful. Kids will respect the educational process a bit more when hearing someone of his caliber speak about the importance of education. Now Americans citizens (mostly wingnuts) have created a firestorm and continue to divide the country on every issue. Some people have absolutely lost their minds over Obama winning this election. America is falling.

    I want the world to see how inane American politics is. See the link below…

  11. President Obama mentioned Ghandi as a person whom he would like to meet , perhaps in his current form this may not be possible, however, it seems from a chessic perspective it is important to mention the game of the week provided here on the Chessdrum by Panchanathan as we seek “A new way forward” in chess, Mr. Panchanathan we thank you as descendants of Africa for one of the best games in history thus far , as “The Father of Ultramodern Strategy” i am truly humble by your brilliance. PEACE.

  12. I think it is truly remarkable that at such a critical time our conscience would sink to an all time low! The words of President Obama ring with simple sound clarity but all of a sudden confusion is the order of the day! Perhaps the issue is much simpler and the truth will be told in the end! The sloan or motto that my business introduces is simple, work hard, play hard and ask the questions perhap the american conscience is beginning to answer some un asked questions?!

  13. Barry,

    It’s crazy. You read the comments and listen to the reasoning… it makes no sense. Then you have a Congressman call the President a “liar” in a session. He was widely condemned, but it shows an unprecedented disregard for the position and Obama. You have people who carryied guns outside of a townhall meeting where the President was speaking… claiming constitutional rights. Unprecedented.

    There are a lot of unanswered questions, but rest assured, many are not used to the CHANGE in White House. They are seeking to show their discontent in strange ways… keeping child at home from school to prevent their child from hearing a speech by President? Never have I ever heard of that happening to any Head-of-State.


    He may have done for international diplomacy what Anand has done for chess. You need a different persona and temperment to help affect a sea of change. Both represent a different guard, cut from a different tradition. Countries may see that diplomacy has promise.

    In chess, Anand refuses to get involved in bickering, power plays and egocentric escapades. Chess had been wracked for 30 years by these displays out of Europe. I believe Anand’s Chess Oscar is appropriate for more than his play.

    Both Obama and Anand have particularly motivated millions in the developing nations. Hopefully they will set the trends. If Obama is a one-term President (which would be a disgrace), then the U.S. will spiral into dispair. If Anand abdicates his crown, chess willl probably descend back into chaos with fighting and people holding the title hostage.

  15. Very interesting thread on a chess site! I have plenty of friend in the USA and am an addict of US politics (though I live in Kenya) and most are of the opinion that the Nobel Prize committee was kind of crazy. It’s not Obama’s fault, hey if Nobel guys give you the prize what can you do?!

    Back here in Kenya of course everyone is an Obama fan and are delighted. Kenyans consider him one of their own.

    But to me it looks like Obama has an uphill task both in foreign affairs and domestic issues. Many people are begin to wonder whether he is just a talker who can’t deliver on any of his big promises. He may not win a second term at this rate. We pray Obama pull it all off, after all he has always come out the winner from an underdog position…maybe he will have the last word. But no, the Nobel prize was too soon.

    If the noble prize committee wanted to be bold and daring as they have said, then perhaps they should have gone back on their policy of not awarding the prize posthumously and given it to the man who deserved it more than Obama, that is Michael Jackson. Michael’s music and death truly brought the whole world together on a scale even Obama cannot achieve, terrorists, peacemakers and chessplayers alike would have had MJ as a fan. MJ was a big philanthropist and he generously gave out his money for positive causes. Had the Nobel Committee given the prize to Michael most likely their would have been unanimous approval around the world.

  16. Mehul,

    Michael Jackson would have been a very interesting selection. Never thought of it.

    On Obama… his impact has already been felt on many fronts. I believe what Americans here are confusing is the actual intent of the award. It does not measure a list of accomplishments over a long period. It merely awards an individual based on how they symbolize peace. Obama is in a position to affect change in diplomacy and move away from America’s aggressive, hegemonic, realist tactics. He is deserving of the honor.

    I don’t believe people really understand why they presented him with the award. He is changing the entire atmosphere of diplomatic relations as we speak. He has been in office in less than a year and people here are saying he has failed on his promises. George Bush was in office eight years and did nothing but drive this country into ruin… and he did it with a smirk on his face.

    We also have to remember that here, people are opposing everything that he does and there is a fierce racial element to the politics. There has been no American President who has met such resistance and has been maligned as much. Mehul, if you were here in the U.S., you would not believe the disrespect some have of Obama. It is deep-seated hatred of what he represents… a different face (literally and figuratively) and a changing of the old guard.

  17. Mr. Mehul one must agree that this Mj idea is quite interesting! Often times i find myself at a loss for words when attempting to discuss this high level of genius between such individuals as President Obama and MJ . It seems when we study MJ’s Music and his Message, his Lyrical Chants, one began to get the feeling that theses words has become a living “Transformative Figure” whom we refer to here in the U.S., as President Obama, After all what is MJ’s music really all about but Love, Peace and Harmony,seems MJ has been chanting up this man since he was five, so perhaps its time for the world to take a moment to listen. The Norwegians, I see yall not hardheaded, huh? Bless.

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