By Eddie Griffin
Monday, March 03, 2008
Not many people remember when the yellow lights first silhouetted the downtown skyscrapers in Fort Worth. It was November 21, 1963 the night John F. Kennedy had come to town. The city wanted to make an impression. We wanted the president to see our little town from the air as he flew into Mecham Field on Air Force One.
I was a 17-year old high school honor student at the time, excited at the prospect of seeing my first U.S. President. It was the age of Camelot, when hope reigned in a neglected and downtrodden black community. Kennedy had brought hope to a nation divided by the color line. But we had no hint of the imminent tragedy that lay ahead.
As the presidential motorcade rolled up to the Texas Hotel, I joined the crowd across the street, on an empty lot along Ninth and Commerce. Most of us colored folk watched from a respectable distance from afar, lest we should infringe upon the white right of passage to get as close to the president.
The yellow lights never went out and continue to burn in downtown Fort Worth even today, some 45 years later. In fact, the city was all aglow when the Obama Express came through Fort Worth like the Santa Fe on the night of February 28, 2008.
On that empty lot at Ninth and Commerce, across the street from the old Texas Hotel, they built the Convention Center where the Obama Rally was staged. And, from where Barack was standing to deliver his speech was the same spot where we congregated on the fateful night in November, 1963. (Am I the only one still alive to remember?)
I have lost count of the many U.S. Presidents in my time, from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. They came and they went, and only a few even scratch my memory, and none like JFK.
I remember wearing an “I Like Ike” campaign button when I was in elementary school around 1952. And, I will never forget the so-called Revolution we fought against Richard M. Nixon. Besides also, I owe a debt of gratitude to Jimmy Carter for releasing me from federal prison, along with other political prisoners. Since then, I took a vow of peace, to be content with whoever occupied the Whitehouse- as long as the channels of communication were opened to the government.
I hate and avoided politics. Like most people in my community, I usually voted for the “lesser of two evils” and hoped for the best. But on Thursday night, when Barack Obama came to town, I had reason for a renewed hope, but not the wistfulness of a 17-year old kid whose hopes were dashed on November 22, 1963 and again on April 4, 1968. But through the gleaming eyes of another 17-year old youth.
Paul David is a highly educated streetwise kid, always in trouble. He has the local reputation of a gang banger, but with the mannerisms of a gentleman. He cannot stay in school, is constantly being expelled, and is now become too physical for his poor single mom to handle.
He was a hopeless case when I became his mentor several years ago. For two years, I provided his home-schooling. Finally, his mother sent him off to California to live with his uncle. And, with the change in environment, he became an honor student.
But now Paul David was back in Fort Worth, once again in and out of trouble as before, attending an alternative school. When I saw him, I gave him a tip: Go to work as a volunteer on the Obama campaign. That he did, and since then there has been a marked change in his behavior. He is so energized and productive that the campaign office calls him “a working machine”.
Here is a kid accustomed to working the streets in the ‘hood. And, he is working it, as if he has a vested interest the future, though he is still too young to vote.
Something else I noticed, his pants don’t sag quite as low. All I can say about that is there is a new role model come to town- a colored man in a suit who is not a preacher. Barack Obama has given street fashion a different look and a different outlook.
These kids are as wild about Obama as Hannah Montana. Only the other day, some 8-year old wide-eyed wonder went on an Obama tear at school, screaming out the candidate’s name up and down the hall. Parents are even more fired up. It’s like March Madness and Texas is about to explode.
Geez! I wish March 4 was over with, so everybody in Texas can calm back down. It’s enough to give a nostalgic old man a stroke.