In the wake of Barack Obama's election, will a candidate's race become less of a factor as we move forward in the 21st century?
That is one of the topics that will be addressed at a special daylong symposium being held today by the University of South Florida's Institute on Black Life at the USF Embassy Suites. "Leadership In the 21st Century — the Role and the Road" will look to address how the community should move forward after Obama's historic campaign.
Institute director Cheryl Rodriguez said the institute staged a series of seminars leading up to today's symposium, and a theme of community renewal emerged at each event.
"What I'm struck by is, regardless of the group, people really tend to go back to community as a core value," Rodriguez said. "People think of how people organized during his campaign and how youth played such a large part. We were so united in our thinking and the importance of this."
The transformative moment can't be denied, but now comes the real challenge: How does the community capitalize on the spirit of renewal? A number of local leaders, including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, national Delta Sigma Theta president Paulette Walker and 100 Black Men president Henry Bell, will join in today's discussion. National Public Radio host and author Faria Chideya will be the keynote speaker at the luncheon.
"What we really want to talk about is how to sustain this progress, and how we can all act upon President Obama's call for renewal and individual leadership," Rodriguez said.
The renewal can yield results if people become more engaged and recognize the power they hold.
If a multiracial coalition can help elect a black man president, something once believed impossible, can't it be just as effective on the local and state level? Many voting districts are drawn to intentionally result in blacks being elected to office, but Obama's run seems to suggest it's become antiquated.
"Obama knows that people of all ethnic groups voted for him and he has an understanding of what it means to be a person who has transcended our narrow definition of race," Rodriguez said. "Race and race politics and the racialization of everything has influenced our history tremendously, but we have to rethink who we are as a people."
Why couldn't a Hispanic woman in Seminole Heights effectively represent the county commission district serving East Tampa?
Why couldn't an upstart black professional living in Palm Harbor meet the political needs of that community even though it's predominantly white and more moderate?
I can't help but think that a candidate who gains office by building support from a variety of groups will be more effective than one who coasts into office largely because of a shared skin color with the majority in their district.
A more diverse political process should be the carryover from an Obama win. We also need our current elected officials to begin seriously reaching back, encouraging and developing the next generation of leaders — regardless of race.
Some old-timers will say it can't be done in Tampa Bay.
They also said Obama could never win.
That's all I'm saying.