Are You There America? It's Me…

November 8, 2008

America? Are You There? Are you celebrating?

C Wesley Crump

Photographer: C Wesley Crump

Are you there, America?  Are you celebrating?  Are you smiling as tears swell in your eyes? Is your heart ready to burst?  My heart beats as fiercely but I’m not quite sure it beats in time with the collective rhythm of this momentous moment.  Having celebrated my thirtieth birthday in this historic year, perhaps I am too young to realize this momentous culmination of the Civil Rights Movement or perhaps I am not young enough to be a part of the galvanized youth vote. For some reason the sentimentality of the moment escapes me.


Not that my mind fails to process this historic moment when a person who embodies the biracial foundation of The United States becomes the president of The Unites States.  I feel confident in naming the United States’ foundation a biracial one and one of multicultural decent just as Barack Obama is, just as all of us Americans truly are deep down inside.


Long ago when The United States was not a nation but simply a grouping of colonies on the brink of bankruptcy, dark skinned people from Africa cultivated tobacco and saved the first permanent English colony, Jamestown, Virginia, from starvation and ultimate ruin.  The Virginia Company based in London nearly “laid off” and closed down the Jamestown “offices” leaving the colonial employees not simply unemployed but dead.  Over half of Jamestown colonialists had already died as the colony failed to produce a successful crop and profit. However in 1619 when the first English settlers forced the first Yoruban settlers, the first Togolese settlers and the first Ghanan, Adja, Mina, Ewe, Fon, Mbundu, BaKongo, Igbo, Wolof, Chamba, Makua settlers to cultivate the tobacco crop, a colony’s financial standing finally rose out of the red and into the black, literally, and a nation was born.  A nation built by the calloused hands of European and African peoples.  1619 marks the first year slaves rescued a colony and synchronously marks the creation of the elected legislative body, the House of Burgesses in Jamestown.  Slavery and democracy, hand in hand, birthed a nation.  I doubt the English settlers realized the intrinsic bond they formed by spilling the blood of African peoples in the desperate act of staving off more deaths of European peoples.  


Yet the blood was spilled and mixed and soaked into the earth of this land.  As Crispus Attucks, a former slave who achieved his freedom and became a sailor spilled his blood among the first causalities in the Boston Massacre of the American Revolutionary War, as Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers and Buffalo soldiers poured their blood on American soil, biracial blood continued to flow and further fertilized this country’s land.  Throughout history, American bipartisanship mirrored America’s biracial foundation as both parties have followed the inspirations of Republicans Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln as well as Democrats Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy who introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  It would be painfully obtuse of me to overlook the floods of African blood that fertilized American land from the lynching of slavery, Reconstruction, segregation and Civil Rights but it would also be bitterly blinding for me to overlook the European blood that also flowed.  


On the second Tuesday of November in the year of two thousand eight, exactly three hundred eighty nine years, one hundred forty one thousand, nine hundred eighty five days, countless human lives after 1619, this moment of a black person’s election as The United States President seemed inevitable to me.


As an eighth grade student, when my teacher posed the question, “Do you think an African American can become president?”  I stood alone declaring yes.  Perhaps because my parents taught me to believe that with hard work, determination and imagination, I could achieve anything I dreamed of achieving, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because my maternal biracial great-grandfather bought the land he farmed in a time were slave decedents worked only as sharecroppers in southern Georgia and also bought a bus to drive his children and other children decedents of slaves to school when the county refused to bus children to the one Negro school in the area, I believed this moment inevitable.  Perhaps because my paternal biracial great-grandfather worked tirelessly in a coal mine to build his house on the land he worked to owned in West Virginia and proved a leader of his community reaching across racial divides, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because to this day both my mother’s family and my father’s family still own and manage the land my great-grandfathers owned, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because my maternal grandmother gained an education becoming a nurse and my paternal grandmother achieved a masters degree becoming a teacher, both in an age predating affirmative action where most European Americans had little more than a high school degree, I believed this moment inevitable.  


Perhaps because my paternal grandfather entered this country as an immigrant who worked in a steel company, paid down his home loan in half the loan term, I believed this moment inevitable.  Perhaps because my family overflows with American dreams made reality, I believed this moment inevitable.


Perhaps because I watched Barack Obama speak at the Democratic convention four years earlier and learned of his policies from listening to his podcast as an Illinois Senator, I believed this moment inevitable. Perhaps because all the logical, observable, political trends pointed to a Democrat succeeding to the White House, I believed this moment inevitable.


I did not shed a tear. I did not raise my hands to the heavens. I felt heart palpitations and held my breath. That kind of breath drawn in before blowing out birthday cake candles. Days later I feel as though I have not yet released my deeply drawn breath. So, America if you are out there, it’s me and I need your help.


You see I graduated from New York University chanting, “I think I can; I think I can; I know I can.” from the “The Little Engine That Could” a story book read to me by my mother and beloved grandmother and given to me the day I completed my Bachelors Degree of Fine Arts from Tisch School of the Arts.  Yet I haven’t achieved my dreams. I must admit, I’d dutifully voted but I had paid little attention to politics other than the debates of abortion, prayer in school, creationism, welfare, gay marriage, affirmative action, Hobbs, Lock, Marx, Jefferson, capitalism versus socialism and all the topics that weave in and out of late night dorm room debates of political concepts and philosophy.  However suddenly on Tuesday, September 11th  as I fearfully waited for my friends who worked at Wall Street to return to their apartment where I was receiving their furniture delivery, politics stopped being a series of debates and logics, it became my life.  I became obsessed with exactly what “Peace in the Middle East” meant.  The more I read the angrier and more astonished I felt.  With great trepidation, I lifted the veils from my eyes.  I considered how I had entered the adult world in 2000 and despite my dreams, determination and diligent work logging eighteen hour days, six day weeks, only to continue working on my artwork after the extreme work day ended, my dreams eluded me.  Eight years later, I stilled worked tirelessly: without health care, without saving little more than $1,000 for a rollover IRA, without making any headway in paying off my student loans, without a car, without a house and without growing any nearer to my career dreams.  I’ve tried to avoid all the trappings of credit card debt.  I’ve gone eight years without having cable television service. I rarely purchase clothes.  I pack my lunch. The credit card debt I borrowed I did so to purchase a laptop to complete a freelance contract assignment, when the computer I’d bought with cash, crashed.  I also borrowed on credit cards bus tickets and plane tickets meeting with agents and producers to discuss my artwork and potential contracts.  Yet in all the eight years, all my work has failed to achieve my dreams.  Suddenly at thirty years, nearly every collegiate debate on abortion, affirmative action, Hobbs, Lock, Marx, Jefferson, capitalism versus socialism, all the politics stopped being a series of debates and logics, it became my life.  So…  I voted for Barack Obama because I need for my life to change and if the policies of the past eight years reined over my failed eight years then certainly the policies of the opposition would enable me and lift the roadblock that barred my success.


And yet at 7:45 am when a voting machine slurped down my ballot and the volunteer smiled and asked whether I would like a sticker, I couldn’t help but feel, “Okay, now what?”  The sticker read, “I made a difference.  So can you, vote.” I couldn’t help but wonder, “Have I made a difference?”  Will my life change? My fiancé and I ceaselessly exchanged these anti-climatic feelings over breakfast.  The rest of the day I spent working on my artwork.  Every second that I’m not working in an office to pay my rent and bills, I’m working on my art, so by 3 pm, I truly felt as though my life had not changed.  Despite my incessant failures and my mounting fears that I’ve lost years chasing an elusive dream, I still work toward that dream. I suppose this is the reason, I keyed into one particular part of Obama’s speech, “I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.”  The crowd chanted, “Yes we can” echoing “The Little Engine That Could” from my childhood, from my college graduation.  I suddenly felt so much older than all of them. I suddenly thought, “How can he promise my dreams will come true?!  I know the intoxication of possibility and the high of hope. But when you fall from those dizzying heights, when you fail as painfully as I have failed, what do you do then?”  As if my inner thoughts joined in the call and response concert of Grant Park, Obama answered, “There will be setbacks and false starts.  There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand. What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek — it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”


There!  There is where my heart skipped a beat!  That is the moment I drew a breath as if making a wish before the illuminated, promising candles of my thirtieth birthday cake! I have drawn that breath but have not released it.  I’m hoping, America that if you are truly out there, you can help me.  How much I want the chance to make the change I need in my life.  How much I want the ‘you’ Barack Obama spoke of to be me.  I truly want to make a difference, in my life and the lives of others.  I truly believed that I was destined to make a difference.  My belief led me to taking out student loans and gambling on my dreams of making a difference in the world.  My belief led me through these eight years of working despite every producer who refused to read my work but called upon me to work to 1 am on their shows and their films.  My belief led me to work in an industry where employer offered health plans and pensions are a myth and every contract is freelance.  My belief led me to rack up debt flying between LA and NYC to meet with the only agent who considered representing my art and producers who entertained my pitches.  My belief led me to failure.  What mistakes have I made?  


Perhaps I lack the sentimentality of this moment because my hope is dying.  With each refusal to produce my artwork, my hope dies.  With each month my student loan debt mounts, my hope dies. With each month I break even between income and bills and save nothing, my hope dies. With each grocery trip where I must stretch twenty dollars for four weeks of food, my hope dies.  With each painful decision I make that rips my heart asunder, my hope dies.


Before this sleepless night, I have never written and maintained a blog.  I’m not even sure that I’ll post anything more that this entry.  I have no myspace page or facebook page.  I’ve never had the desire. Yet, this night I lie awake not wanting this moment to pass me by without my feeling it, without my living it because I don’t know when it’s my hope that’s dying or me who’s dying.  


So while you, America celebrate, cry and thank the heavens, please tell me what dreams you are pursuing that you believe will be achieved now.  If you happen upon this blog, please leave a quick comment telling me what change you see upon the horizon in your life.  Please share with me how you plan to make Obama’s policies benefit your life.  If you have any suggestions of any fields of study or professions that will have job security under the new administration, please tell me.  America, if you are out there, please help in the easiest way.  Just type a few words about your dreams, your hope and the chance for change that you see coming in the next four years.  Please, are you there America?  It’s me…



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