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Area black Catholics react
Obama’s election has profound effect on African-Americans
Editor’s Note: The Catholic Herald recognizes President-elect Barack Obama’s pro-abortion platform. However, the purpose of this article is to report on the historical significance of Obama’s election, particularly as felt by members of the local black Catholic community.
Regardless of where Catholics fall on the politics of President-elect Barack Obama, last Tuesday’s election was historic for all Americans, and especially meaningful for those of African-American descent.
That, of course, includes black Catholics who live in the Arlington Diocese.
Pat Brooks, a parishioner of Holy Family Parish in Dale City, said she cried when the announcement was made — and it’s not difficult to understand why. The 71-year-old grew up in the era of segregation. She lived through the days of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“With that kind of beginning it would actually be hard to imagine that I would see something like this happen in my lifetime,” she said. “It never even occurred to me that it was possible.”
Veronica Dabney, a longtime parishioner of Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, was just as affected.
“I never, ever expected to see this happen in my lifetime,” Dabney said. “My friends, my family … we talk about the fact that we wish our parents were here to see it, or my grandmother was here to see it.”
Dabney said she knows people who were skeptical that Americans would ever elect a black president. But she held out hope. Her experience in the Catholic community — for example, being part of the first integrated class at the former St. Mary’s Academy in Alexandria — opened her eyes to bigger possibilities. For that she credits her mother, the woman who ensured that she would go to Catholic school, and the woman she thought about more than any other person on Election Day.
“It makes me sad that she never saw this day,” Dabney said.
For Brooks, it was her grandmother — the woman who raised her — whom she wished had witnessed the historical moment.
“It’s sort of hard to describe,” Brooks said. “It feels like it’s a matter of acceptance in this country that you didn’t expect.”
The historic significance of the election dominated the opening address of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) fall general assembly in Baltimore earlier this week.
“Symbolically, this is a moment that touches more than our history when a country that once enshrined race slavery in its very constitutional legal order should come to elect an African-American to the presidency,” said Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the USCCB. “In this, I truly believe, we must all rejoice.”
Pope Benedict XVI also referred to the “historic occasion” of the election in a personal message sent to Obama last week that congratulated the new president and offered his prayers.
“We all hope the new President Obama will be able to respond to the expectations and hopes that have been placed in him, serving human rights and justice, finding the best ways to promote peace in the world and favoring the growth and dignity of persons with respect for essential human and spiritual values,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.
Shirley E. Suggs, also a parishioner of Holy Family, believes the election ushered in a new era.
“I realize that racism is alive and well,” she said. “But this has changed my thinking because 69 percent of the vote came from white people. Change is coming.”
Her sons, she said, were raised to believe that anything is possible. Now they have proof.
“Here is a man (who) has made it into the presidency,” she said. “This has been an extraordinary time for us as a race.”
Dabney was quick to remind that the president-elect will be the president of all Americans, not just those who are black.
“We are having this conversation with ourselves,” she said. “Barack Obama has to do what’s best for the whole nation and not just best for us. We want to consider that black problems are American problems.”
The election created a clash of emotions for Brooks, who considers herself conservative in her political views. But, she said, it presents an opportunity for all people to work together for the country.
Regardless of his political affiliation, Obama has achieved the American dream, Suggs said.
“Hard work pays off, no matter what color you are, no matter what ethnic background you come from,” she said. “That’s the way black people have lived most of their lives. I am extremely proud to be an American.”
CNS contributed to this report.