I haven't done the research, but I suspect that few other U.S. presidents took office with so much hope and so many dreams attached to him as Barack Obama.
Many people, especially white Americans, for example, hoped that Obama's election would bring us something of a postracial utopia. That, of course, didn't happen.
Similarly, an untold number of African-Americans hoped that Obama's ascendency to the White House would make it possible for young black males to seriously dream of becoming the president of the United States of America just like Obama. This was, and is, a laudable dream because, if for no other reason, black boys consistently languish at the bottom of every measure of academic success, especially the ability to read.
If Obama's election inspires black boys to achieve, we will have a miracle. Dreaming of being like Obama is the easy part. I heard a lot of black people talk about that dream, but I heard precious few discuss the essential qualities, natural and acquired, that account for much of Obama's success. Some people seemed to believe that Obama's success could be transferred by osmosis. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Without hard work and drive, personal sacrifice, delaying self-gratification, sober planning and a network of reliable supporters, mere dreaming is just that. If Obama's life is to have a positive influence, young black males must get off to a positive start from birth.
This means that the adults — parents, grandparents and others — in these children's lives must be mature, vigilant and nurturing. Although Obama's father wasn't around when he was a child, the future president had a loving, intelligent and educated mother, and he had grandparents who looked after his every need.
There are a few qualities and traits that account for much of Obama's success, qualities and traits that young black males must learn to practice assiduously.
Most visibly, Obama always is well-groomed and dressed appropriately, even when he's playing basketball. Try to imagine an adult or a teenage Obama sagging and wearing a jacket three sizes too large. Try to imagine a young Obama with a Buckwheat hairdo. A pleasing appearance is part of the man's persona. He always looks presidential.
He's publicly respectful of other people, even when some of his foes insult him to his face. Clearly, Obama understands the power of respecting others. On the campaign trail, he endeared himself to a cross section of Americans because of his respectfulness and wholesome demeanor.
To respect others, I was taught, you must respect yourself. This is something young black males need to grasp.
Obama is a learned man. Although he was born highly intelligent, he wasn't born an intellectual. From a very young age, he was exposed to books, magazines and newspapers. He became a curious and voracious reader who delved into books with purpose. You can see the results of his reading in the depth of his thinking in his speeches, his casual conversation and his writing.
As a child, he traveled broadly with his family. You can see the cosmopolitanism in his thinking and in his policymaking. He's seen as one of our most intellectual of presidents, one who can speak extemporaneously with brilliance and levity.
From all I know, Obama always has loved school, and he apprehended the efficacy of formal education as a teenager. He married a woman, Michelle, with the same traits and qualities. After he became a parent, he inculcated that same love of learning in his two girls. When Americans saw the Obama family during the campaign, they saw what is viewed as a quintessential American family.
And then there were Obama's speaking skills, vital on the stump and indispensable to governing. Far too many black males, unfortunately, disdain correct speaking, condemning it as being "uppity" and "acting white." They learn this disdain and condemnation at early ages, which are reinforced each step along the way to growing up.
Doubtless, Obama has raised the bar for young black males. His success has given them reason to dream. But if those young blacks, along with the adults in their lives, don't comprehend the core realities of the Obama phenomenon, their dreams of becoming president are pitiful illusions.