Dear Zachary and Corbett:
You don't know it yet, but today was a truly historical day.
The United States of America inaugurated their 44th President, Barack H. Obama. You see, President Obama is of African American descent and he is the first African American to hold the Presidency.
You are too young to know why this is special, but in time you will learn. You are far enough removed from this horrible history that perhaps it will seem almost impossible to believe. It will seem as though someone has woven a tale that could only be imagined, not one of truth. Until the 1960's, African Americans - persons of colour - were not permitted to eat in the same restaurants, use the same washrooms, drink from the same fountains or attend the same schools as Caucasians. This is only a short list of the ways in which they were segregated from the general population. African Americans were called horrible names, and subjected to unspeakable acts of violence, simply because of the colour of their skin. They were treated as property, sold into slavery and traded as though they were mere objects.
As a child, I learned of such brave and inspirational people as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. African Americans who refused to accept the role that had been prescribed them. Their simple, peaceful acts of protest, inspired others to stand up for themselves and fight for what was rightfully theirs. The same rights held by Caucasians for centuries.
But is this history really so far behind us? As a teenager, I witnessed a reaction of rioting in Los Angeles and Toronto after the acquittal of 3 out of 4 police officers charged with the excessive force beating of Rodney King. After the riots, Mr King himself pleaded for an end to the riots, asking for everyone to "just get along"
To be completely honest, I certainly didn't imagine that as a society we had come far enough that we would see an African American hold office in North America. At least not this soon.
I don't think that Barack Obama deserves the Presidency because he is African American. And although some Americans may have voted for him because of this, I believe that he was elected on his own merits. And even more significant than the fact that he is the first African American elected to office is the fact that President Obama ran a positive campaign. He didn't get involved in the typical mud-slinging we see in elections - particularly our recent election in Canada, he publicly declared that family members of his political rivals were "off-limits", and refused to be dragged in to the negativity. He didn't tell people why the other guy shouldn't be President, he told them why he should.
Most of all, he inspired people. He inspired people to get out and vote. The 2008 US election had the highest voter turnout in at least 40 years. To compare, in Canada's recent election, we had our lowest voter turnout ever.
In his inaugural speech today, President Obama urged us all to remember “that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
Never forget those words. As you grow into young men, always strive to ensure that you treat people, no matter their circumstances, as your equal. Promise to stand up for human rights when you see a person being treated unjustly. Promise to always be the best person you can be.
Remember, it doesn't matter whether a person supports Barack Obama or whether they supported his rival, John McCain. Today's events show that people can change and history does not have to repeat itself. And change is what we all so desperately needed.