From the Mouths of Babes: Obama’s Appeal to Children Fueling Their Interest in Politics
by Nia Ngina Meeks, Black America Web
When 10-year-old Jelani Wheeler told his parents he wanted to be president of the United States when he grew up, they decided the best way to help prepare him was for him to take lessons from a pro: Barack Obama.
Jelani and his mother, Pam Rich-Wheeler, flew to Denver on Wednesday so they could witness Obama accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination at Invesco Field the next day.
“He’s going to be the first black president,” Jelani said. “A lot of people have been waiting for this for some time. That’s why I am excited to come.”
Plenty of parents from across the country, delegates and observers alike, have decided to bring their children to Denver for this once-in-a-lifetime moment — the ultimate back-to-school field trip.
While much has been made of Obama inspiring the YouTube-Facebook crowd, his appeal also flows down to the juice box crew, too, evident in the many “Kids for Obama” groups springing up over the country.
Gary Hooker Jr. is one such kid. When his mother, Lisa, won a slot as an Obama delegate, there was no question he would join her and his father, Gary Sr., in Denver. After all, he had been campaigning alongside them for months in Raleigh, N.C. He also lobbied for his best friend since kindergarten, Cameron Nelson, to join them.
“I wanted my friend to experience all these great things, too” said Gary Jr., who is blogging from the Democratic National Convention for his elementary school.
“I’m excited to be here with all these people talking that are famous,” Cameron added. “And one may actually become president.”
While they share Obama’s skin tone, that didn’t prompt their support of him, they said. “I am more interested in what he would do as president, and if he is a nice person,” Gary Jr. said.
His is a common outlook among black youngsters, in particular, said Jamal A. Cooks, an associate education professor at San Francisco State University. He has researched black adolescent attitudes on democracy, and this campaign has shifted previous realities.
Whereas before, such students felt mostly disaffected, disenchanted and disengaged, Cooks said there is palpable heightened awareness of politics during the 2008 contest. Color is noted, but their sense of relation to Obama extends beyond that and has helped counter some of the previous negative associations with the political process.
“My previous research showed that there was just this cynicism, that white people don’t care; the system is white, so I don’t care about them or it, and I don’t care about participating in this democratic process,” Cooks said. “A lot of it is that they didn’t see themselves being represented.
“Obama is the kind of guy they can imagine in the community, at their church or even at a barbeque. There is a connection kids feel from that, and it’s a major difference.”
The Democratic National Convention Committee worked to piggy-back on that, setting up student-centered events during the week, including an essay contest and a preview of the convention floor, complete with the opportunity to handle the gavel. But absorbing lessons on civic engagement as a family has another level of value, Lisa Hooker said.
“If I had known politics was like this, we would have gotten involved a long time ago,” said the first-time delegate. “This has run the emotional gamut. We were never as inspired as a family until now.”
Demystifying the political process and introducing the possibilities is why Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown brought her 12-year-old daughter, Brielle Autumn, to the convention – her third.
“Once she reads this in the history books, she can say, ‘I was there.’ It’s the same as for me in the ‘60s,” Reynolds Brown said. “I shook Robert F. Kennedy’s hand when I was in the fifth grade at Independence Hall. That left an impression on me for a lifetime.”
That’s the sort of impression Sonita Williams expects will be left on her two daughters, Hope, 4, and Taylor, 8. As a family, they traveled with their father, R. Seth Williams, from Philadelphia to Springfield, Illinois to witness Obama’s announcement nearly 10 months ago.
The Williams family was happy to come to Denver to see the next phase of the campaign — and hope to continue the trek through to the inauguration in January.
“We had a woman running, and they are going to be women, but I am a black woman, and they are black girls,” Sonita Williams said, “so this is a great thing for my girls to see — that they can say, ‘I can do that. I can work hard, and be honest and achieve.’ That is a great thing.”
That’s a similar message Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter and his wife, Lisa, expect their young daughter, Olivia to receive. As one who pays attention to local and world issues and has had the chance to meet both Bill and Hillary Clinton, there really was no question in their minds when she asked if could attend.
“There are some things you can’t experience on the computer or on the Internet,” Nutter said. “She watched the presidential primary play itself out. This is an historic moment, and it will affect our lives for a long time to come.”