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The Obama Effect

Although they remain pregnant with expectation, for many African Americans, President Barack Obama offers hope, inspiration and motivation.

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Just before he left the White House during a visit early 2009, 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia told President Barack Obama he was curious: “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”

Obama bent down and invited Jacob, standing by the Oval Office desk, to rub his head. “Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob discovered after touching the presidential crown.

The iconic moment, captured by a White House photographer, symbolized, for many, the ultimate meaning of Barack Obama’s presidency: He feels the same.

For the first time in the long and often tortured history of Black America, a Black man is the most powerful leader in the world, embraces his blackness and identifies with African Americans on social, cultural and political levels.

Little Jacob’s hand upon his head symbolized, in the most poignant way, this visceral connection. Now, as Obama begins his second term in office and prepares to face the enormous challenges that lie ahead, African Americans in metro Detroit and across the country are reflecting on the true meaning of it all.

While many reasonable people can and are making legitimate arguments about the actual efficacy of some of Obama’s policies and their impact on African Americans, there seems to be almost universal agreement that at a minimum, in symbolic terms, the Obama presidency represents a psychological breakthrough in Black America of revolutionary proportions.


“President Obama is a great role model and broke down a lot of barriers and stigmas about what a Black president can do,” says Brittani Holsey, 20, of West Bloomfield.

“A lot of people didn’t want to vote for a Black president because of the stereotypes associated with Black men, but now they see a stable Black family in the media, and that Black family is a very strong representation of what an American family should be.”

The junior at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo voted for the first time last November. Her vote for Obama was personal and symbolic.

“It meant that not only was I supporting the candidate whose views I personally believe are what’s right for our country, but it also gave me a little hope and motivation to succeed knowing that someone of my same race is our nation’s leader.”

Dr. C. JuJuan Taylor, a native Detroiter, professor and chairwoman of the communication arts department at Schoolcraft College, shares Holsey’s sentiment. While people can debate the impact of the president’s domestic and foreign policies, there is no debate that his presence as a strong, positive Black man leading our nation, who eloquently advocates for strong Black families, is educational in and of itself.

“If Obama could not communicate effectively and dynamically, he would not have had the opportunity to give us this overwhelming sense of pride,” she says.

“His demeanor, his coolness and ability to articulate his policies in a thoughtful and concise way when under attack—and on a world stage, no less—is not only reassuring, but strikes a dagger at the very heart of the stereotype you see in much of the popular media of Black men being impulsive, overly emotive and supercilious. The fact is, this brother can communicate.”

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