Something Deeper Happened: Young Voices and the 2008 Election

Avideh Shashaani, Editor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (foreword)

© 2010, Publisher: Fund for the Future of Our Children, Washington, DC,
150 pages ISBN No: 978-0-578-05605-0

A Review by Mary Morris

This collection is an important project regarding the inspiration of youth and their plans following the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama. With a foreword by Desmond Tutu and an introduction by Avideh Shashaani, President of Fund for the Future of our Children (FFC), three questions were asked of young people, ages 6 to 25. The children were invited to answer in the form of an essay, poem, or visual art. The three questions presented:

  1. In what way has this election inspired you?
  2. What kinds of activities have you participated in because you have been inspired by this election?
  3. How has this election affected what you planned to do with your life?

The book is an accumulation of answers by some of our younger citizens, a text I believe that should be mandatory in all school libraries from kindergarten through high school. Responses, such as the one from Marshall Reed, grade 2, state, “I am change. I traveled to four states with my family for the Obama campaign. I knocked on 180 doors, made posters for the Obama offices. I attended 5 rallies…” or from Elijah Lee, Hackensack, N.J., age 8, “When Obama was chosen I felt like I was him. I felt like him when he won. I felt incredibly amazed! I felt like a new boy,” recall the stirring of very young children witnessing the powerful change taking effect.

If children are our greatest teachers, let us learn from such documents. This project is on a mission of humanity.

Jordan Nicole Ferebee, age 11, writes a personal plea, showing how activism can begin early, in his prayer:

During your presidency, I pray that you will pay attention to lowering taxes so my Mom doesn’t have to struggle anymore. Also, to put more recess equipment in schools and fix the broken windows. I promise to help you out by writing letters and telling you how you can help. Also, by keeping my neighborhood clean and helping my teachers after school with the younger children.

Encouraged, Idalisse Myrnita De Los Santos, age 12, writes to Barack Obama,

“You have inspired me as a young minority female to want more for my future, with my education.”

In another letter of inspiration, Kiyah Alexander of Washington DC, age 14, writes:

Dear Mr. President Obama, ‘We finally proved we are better than our stereotypes,’ my brother stated as we watched the inauguration. I, and many people worldwide, see Obama as a representative of change, but he isn’t the end. He is simply the beginning. The ability to bring multiple races together, all wanting the same dream, was beyond belief and inspiring to me. Despite the racist comments, threats, and possible doubts, President Obama prospered to become America’s first black President. I am deeply thankful to be able to experience such an historical event and to be able to pass this story along to the next generation. To have a black worldwide icon to be my President and role model is truly unbelievable. Seeing President Obama sworn in is evident through the beginning of my high school career. I once was a procrastinator, however, when I was exposed to how harsh the world can be during the election period, I realized I could not reach my goals by being average. Henceforth, I vow to put true effort into my work if I want to have an opportunity like President Obama did.

Chiquanna Anderson, age 14, says:

I really think that he will make a big difference for his people. I say this because he stated that he will try to make health care more affordable, reduce dependence on oil, renew schools and highways, come up with an economic recovery plan, reduce unemployment, and increase education. But, of course, most people think that the only reason why Barack Obama is president is because he’s “black.” But most people want change so having the first African-American president is part of the change. Then, by following his goals, will lead to the changed world that everyone is looking for.

One sees the book shifting into older age groups with mature sophistication, activism. These children, young adults are listening, recording history. “African-Americans have been treated as less than human in America, which claims to be a country of equality. Despite efforts to correct this injustice, racism remains. Yet Obama’s election signals that we have made progress. He overcame enormous obstacles, for which I admire and respect him,” writes Julia Barrett, Age 14.

In the poem, “Something Deeper Happened, “ Kristin Ellis, Age 14, also of Washington, DC, writes, “When I was younger, I said I’d be the first female president. Grannie told me “The first black,” grinning./ It’s a dream that passes through all children of all races.” Later, “Rapper T.I. said to stop complainin’ about America if you didn’t even try to register and vote./ Note; Anything is possible,/ even when people smile in your face with doubt.”

Another moving, personal tale, ‘The Sky is My Limit,’ by India Samantha Gregory, DC, Age 14, writes:

When Obama won the election, my family was hysterical. They broke down, because they just witnessed history. A dream that was always shut down and denied had become reality. An African-American who stands for the American dream overcame his critics and became a leader. In fact, he became the most powerful man in the world. Seeing my family’s reaction to this incredible event has inspired me to dream bigger, work harder, and not let anyone try to stop me.

Thrilling words, life-changing events. This collection demonstrates a group of children asked to articulate serious and deep emotion. Should this book be published in different languages, distributed around the world, in order to promote wider movements and communication between young people from different cultures? Yes. Remember Pen Pals? We have a wider access. How far could this be circulated? The answer: unlimited, a powerful tool toward breaking down barriers into a unified, hopeful world. Global.

Harsh reminders, such as the comments from Matthew True Haines, age 14,

“The one fly in the ointment is that my father still knows people he grew up with who wouldn’t and won’t vote for Obama, because he is black,” are seen more, as we read into older children, young adults. They know the long, arduous history of civil rights, King, among others, who have torched the way.

Chris May, age 14, puts it this way,

“…Barack Obama had to overcome other obstacles. He was often accused of being things that he wasn’t. His middle name, Hussein, caused some to believe that he was a bad person, just because his name resembled an Iraqi leader. People also accused him of being a Muslim, or worse, a terrorist, a common stereotype of Muslims.”

The essay, by informed, Mariama Taifa-Seitu, age 14, explains:

     As a child looking through school history textbooks, I was always puzzled about why none of the former presidents were people of color. I always envisioned that one day an African-American president would change the paradigm.
I was born on April 16—D.C. Emancipation Day. This represents a historical moment. Being a native Washingtonian, I understand that we have no representation in the Senate, and have a non-voting representative. Being taxed without representation is immoral.
As Barack Obama becomes President of the United States, I am hopeful that positive change will come to the citizens of Washington, D.C, making the promise of D.C. Emancipation Day real.
I am convinced that with Barack Obama’s dedication and perseverance, we will achieve real change in America. He is an inspiration to all. I truly believe in Obama…

Blanca Contreras, age 17, Washington DC, writes:

I have always been scared that because I’m Hispanic, I won’t be accepted or treated the same, but I have learned that it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you are. These 2008 elections have affected me and inspired me because I can work hard and be the first in my family to go to college. I can achieve any dream, and that is what the elections mean to me.

Important declarations for a child’s identity, this is a book about a recent change, from a long and suffering road forward, a chance toward opening the path into a widening of humankind. The following statement is from the Fund for the Future of our Children, “FFC was founded in 1993 because of their belief that youth are our best hope for peace locally and globally. They vision today’s youth as tomorrow’s leaders for peace and trust deeply in children’s creative vision. Their mission is to nurture future leaders in the seemingly impossible and vitally important task of creating a peaceful and just world.”

Through a variety of projects, FFC has built on collaborations with other organizations committed to developing non-violence expression, global interaction and cross-cultural understanding among children and youth. In the past, FFC has promoted its vision through a variety of projects.

These children are listening, responding, growing. Their message is, we must progress.

In Something Deeper Happened, there are no negative statements of our new President. This is a book focusing on hope. Hope and change. Let it be known. Enthused, brilliant, stirred. The mission of this compilation shows wisdom beyond age.

Poet Mary Morris lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is the winner of the Rita Dove Award. Morris has published in numerous, national literary journals, including Quarterly West, St. Petersburg Review, Indiana Review, The Sun, Nimrod, and Poet Lore. Contacther at: [email protected]