Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Two, Chicago, Chapter Fourteen. Meeting Reverend Wright: The Audacity Of Hope Sermon: Acceptance to Harvard Law: Adieu To Chicago.
REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT View Post
Barack, after securing assistance from the Catholic Churches in his organizing area, decides to make a more dedicated effort to recruit 50 Protestant Churches to support his projects. During this campaign a number of clergymen suggested that he talk to Reverend Jeremiah Wright a powerful and legendary pastor who had built his church from almost no members into the thousands. He was not only legendary on the Southside but also controversial. Some of his sermons would be used against Obama later when he ran for president. One statement in particular that would follow Reverend Wright and later his –parishioner Barack Obama was “Not God bless America but Goddamn America.” Despite this fiery rhetoric some of his fellow pastors saw his church as a Buppie congregation because of the number successful blacks who attended yet had moved from the Southside. However when Barack first met Rev. Wright he was not yet willing to join his church or any church. That came later when he returned as a lawyer and married Michelle.
In this chapter Barack talks a lot about faith and while he doesn’t come right out and say it he seems to be one of those who come down on the side of reason rather than revelation.
He is preparing Johnnie the other organizer he is mentoring to take over his duties as he discloses that he has been admitted to Harvard Law School. While his friends and colleagues see this as a way to escape the realities of the Southside, Father Will believes he will be back. Barack also discloses to the reader that his reason for going to law school was to understand the levers of power and how to use them. He believes that this will make him more effective in his community work.
Barack says little about his decision to go to an Ivy League law school. He applied to Stanford and Yale as well as Harvard and others. Nothing is said about who may have counseled him on this move nor does he discuss the application process which takes months. One has to have very good under graduate grades as well as a very high score on the LSAT in addition to letters of recommendation from former professors and employers to gain admission. He probably wrote an admissions essay on his reasons for wanting a legal education also. It would have been nice to see those documents included in this book as an appendix.
Implicit in his decision to go to law school and “learn how to work the levers of power” is the conclusion that community organizing is seeking change from the bottom up and the real power for change lies in the city, county and state governments who make the rules and appropriate and distribute the funds for change from the top down.
Like Reverend Wright he sees that successful Blacks often leave the Southside Black Community which is disintegrating. Wright believes that is detrimental to the preservation of the Black heritage. Even Mary, his coworker at Father Will’s church who is raising two mixed race daughters by herself, is upset and asks “Why do you men always pickup and leave.”
Harold Washington dies suddenly and there is no other Black politician of sufficient stature to take his place. Thus creating further inroads into the fabric of the Black community both he and Reverend Wright are trying to strengthen and preserve, each in their own way.
Before he leaves, he hears Reverend Wright’s sermon on the “Audacity Of Hope” based on the story of Hannah from the Book Of Samuel. She is barren and taunted by her rivals. However she has not lost hope and still prays to her God for a better day. Rev. Wright compares this to those who survived Hiroshima, The Sharpville Massacre, The Black experience from slavery to the present and all people who found themselves in hopeless circumstances but through their faith refused to give up hope in the face of doom.
Barack sees that the congregation is deeply moved by this sermon and that their spirits are revived and replenished to carry on despite a bitter past. The sermon has moved Barack to tears and the little boy sitting next to him offers him a tissue.
This sermon struck a chord deep in Barack because we know that he entitled his second book the Audacity Of Hope and called his Keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 the Audacity of Hope.
He leaves for Kenya, no longer a novice in the realities and ways of the World, to meet his relatives before going on to Harvard to acquire the knowledge to make himself a more effective leader.
Barack seems to have a conscious or subconscious prescient knowledge of his destiny.
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Two, Chicago, Chapter Thirteen. Identity Is Not Enough: One Must Find One’s Stake.
Barack is considering taking on the public school system in Chicago. He sees the high school dropouts on the corner with their sullen looks guarding their turf without aspirations beyond maintaining dominion over their block. He wonders how he can change the system to encourage these boys who are routinely harassed by the police to believe that they have a stake in society in general and to make them believe that they can benefit by an education and rise above their current state and have a real stake in society.
His elder brother Roy had married a white woman and moved to Washington D.C. where he worked as an accountant. When Barack goes to see him Roy is no longer the slender young man he has seen in pictures but he has become overweight. He tells Barack that he cannot stay at his house as planned but must stay at a hotel because he is feuding with his wife. Barack never gets to meet Roy’s wife. Roy tells him that he thinks he is headed for divorce because his wife tells him that he drinks too much and stays out too late. Roy also has had an accident like his father.
As the oldest boy, in Kenya, he would be responsible for all the others in the family after Barack Sr. died. However in Washington he appears to be out of his element or place in a land where he has no real identity or stake. One wonders if he married Mary, A Peace Corp worker, because he was not succeeding in Kenya either and she was a ticket to a new land and a presumed new identity. Barack leaves early so Roy can try and patch things up with his wife.
On his return to Chicago, Barack tries to help Ruby with her son Kyle who is headed to be another high school dropout. Kyle is staying out late and drinking. Barack asks him about his desire to be in the Air Force. Kyle grunts and is non committal. After some probing by Barack Kyle blurts out ‘What’s the use. Have you ever seen a black pilot?’ Kyle has concluded that he can never reach his goal to be a pilot and has resigned himself to getting a menial job in Chicago and not striving to improve his lot.
Later he and Kyle join a pickup basketball game with some older men. One the older guys tries to put Kyle down as a punk and as not good enough to guard him. Kyle punches him. The fight is broken up but on the way home Kyle feels ashamed and asks Barack not to tell his mother. Barack agrees and wonders if this sliver of self esteem and self worth will be enough to save him from believing that he has no stake in a society that will let him become the best that he can be.
Barack secures a promise from a state legislator that he will sponsor a bill to fund a $500,000 youth counseling program in his area. Barack tells Johnnie a new community organizer he is mentoring. Johnnie reports back that when he informed the school principal he was given a resume’ for the principles wife to work as director of the program and one for his daughter to work as a counselor.
Barack and Johnnie laugh at this “enterprising brother.” However Barack recognizes that this is part of the problem with the high dropout rate and youth’s loss of belief that they have a stake to claim in society if they work hard.
Barack realizes all too often those charged with educating minority youth are more interested in feathering their own nest than the student’s progress.
Students without a belief they have a stake and that they can achieve a good place in society will always lack the will to succeed in life. The challenge to educators is to create this belief
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Two: Chicago, Chapter Eleven; Auma and Father.
Dr. Auma Obama
Auma his sister came to see him. She was studying in Germany for her master’s degree in linguistics and she came to Chicago to know Barack, a half brother she had never met. She was an intelligent woman. However she dispelled some myths he had in his head about his father probably planted by his mother.
Auma told him that Barack Sr. came back to Kenya with his masters from Harvard in Economics with high hopes of being an important administrator in the post colonial government. The two major tribes in Kenya were the Kikuyu and the Luo . The Luo was the smaller and less powerful politically of the two. (Tom Mboya was a powerful Luo in the government and in the beginning Barack Sr.’s mentor and protector. However he was assassinated by a Kikuyu gunman.) Jomo Kenyatta was the President and a Kikuyu. Barack Sr. had a job in the administration, however, he was passed over for more important jobs in favor of Kikuyu administrators.
Barack Sr. believed that the government should rise above tribalism and that favoritism based on tribal origins was wrong and inhibited Kenya as a country. He didn’t care who heard his criticisms and they got to Jomo Kenyatta, who called him in and warned him to be quiet. Barack Sr., who was also a heavy drinker, failed to take heed and he was dismissed from the government and prevented from working in the private sector also. Auma related that these were bad years for the family. Ruth, the wife he met at Harvard, left with her two children and Auma and her brother stayed with Barack Sr. However they had to live off the kindness of relatives and often did not have their own house.
During this time Barack Sr. had a serious auto accident and it took him nearly a year to recover. After he was released from the hospital he went to Hawaii for a visit with Barack Jr.
After he returned home Kenyatta died and Barack Sr. was able to get a low level job in the Water Department. ( A drastic come down for a man of his intellect and ambition.) His constitution was weakened by the auto accident (and several bouts with malaria). Barack Sr. was a severely disillusioned man and his dreams of rising to the top of the first native generation to lead Kenya after the British left were dashed. He continued to drink heavily and ultimately died a premature death a disheartened and failed man.
Barack is stunned by this information about his father who he had placed on a pedestal before this.
He begins to have a premonition that the fate of his father as a black African and the problems that prevented him from fulfilling his hopes and ambitions may be also his fate as a black American.
Auma leaves with the admonition that they should both return for a visit to their father’s grave in the Luo home village to see him lying peacefully with his ancestors. She also leaves him with the haunting thought that the black man’s true self might be found wanting. A myth that probably haunted his father living in post colonial Kenya where the British had taught generations of natives that they were not able or ready to govern themselves.