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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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The presence of First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters in the White House, cannot be overstated.

“The sight of this highly educated, elegant dark-skinned Black woman and their two beautiful daughters in the White House helps re-frame the way in which we must talk about Black women and their role in our society.

“The real appeal of Michelle Obama for so many Black woman and girls is that her beauty, strength and grace are relatable and seemingly attainable for many of us. She has hips, hair and lips we can relate to. She looks Nubian, not European. Seeing her and her daughters sometimes with their hair in corn rows not only helps us identify with them emotionally but culturally, too—and, most importantly, it lets us know they identify with us. And that is something we, as Black people, never could have said in the 232 years of our nation before President Obama was elected.”

President Obama’s uncanny ability to persevere resonates with Velma Gocha, a Detroit retiree.

Speaking in reverential tones about the nation’s 44th president, Gocha, 76, says Obama is different because he’s transparent, authentic and worked hard to accomplish his dream. “He is a breath of fresh air,” she says. “He shows us if we dig down deep and look into ourselves, we will find we have resources we have not tapped into. He enlightened me as a Black woman; he is the Moses of our time.”

However, for Brandon A. Jessup, who worked on the national Obama campaign as its Michigan African American voter outreach director, the effect of the Obama presidency isn’t abstract. It has real, material benefits for the city of Detroit and America.

“President Obama’s re-election gives us an opportunity to repair a relationship with D.C. that is needed in order to expand our economy in the global marketplace,” says the 31-year-old native Detroiter.

The Obama administration is supportive of critical Detroit infrastructure and transportation projects such as bringing light-rail to the city and building a second bridge to Canada, Jessup says.

“This will help the city to expand its reach beyond its geographic borders and, at the same time, help us to lower our unemployment rate and send Detroiters back to work with good wages and re-build our middle class.”

Jessup’s claims notwithstanding, many African American scholars quickly point out that while an Obama presidency has made many African Americans feel good emotionally, it hardly has been edifying in terms of Black America’s collective health.

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