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Speech by Hon. Charles Payne
CORE�s Outstanding Achievement Award Winner

Outstanding Achievement Award Winner, Charles Payne, CEO Wall St. Strategies, with Dinner Co-Chair Herb London, Pres. Hudson Institute. Photo: Gloria Starr Kins

Talk about the stars aligning, the day after the nation celebrates Martin Luther King's birth we'll inaugurate the nation's first Black president.  It is such an incredible time in our history one that many never thought would happen and certainly not at this time.  That is one of the ironies and the challenges we now face.  To borrow the line from Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard Barack Obama was ready for his close up.  He had the intelligence, charm, brilliance, oratory and most of all he had the audacity to become President of the United States.  In the process he made the main tenets of Martin Luther King's dream come true….he was judged by the content of his character.  While Barack Obama was achieving his dream and fulfilling a promise, however, I wonder if the rest us were caught a little flat-footed.  Are we as a nation prepared to be judged by the content of our character?  Are we as a race that has asked for a fair shot are we prepared to be judged solely on the merits? 

There is no doubt the average African American will still face the hurdle of race but now more than ever there is a chance to demand more from others and in order to do that we must also demand more from ourselves.  We have to resist the temptation to spend the next four years living vicariously through the president but instead emulate his game plan.  After all it's not his name or skin color that made him audacious it's his belief, work ethic and determination. 

We have to be prepared demand not to be coddled or appeased by things like higher minimum wage or so-called fair housing that sees one mother in a housing complex wake up and go to work every morning only to see the children of her next door neighbor who doesn't work, wearing the same clothes as her children.  In this manner the election of the first Black president has put us in an odd position.

It's going to be hard to continue to say the US government is letting drugs into the country because the president doesn't care or to continue to ask why we still haven't gotten our 40 acres and a mule.  It's going to be hard to say society is racist although racism continues to live.  By the same token I'm hoping it will be hard for young men to look themselves in the mirror when they knowingly walk away from their children and move on to the next baby's mamas.  Some are looking toward tomorrow as a new day and wonder what gifts they will get from our president.  The truth is we should be looking at tomorrow and wondering what gift we can give to our new president.  After all shaking the bonds of slavery has never been just about removing shackles.  Today it's mental bondage that holds us back as much as the uneven and unfair playing field. 

We are on the eve of a new door opening in America but we must make sure it's not a revolving door.  We've had so many people before that we should have honored better.  The men that founded CORE, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Roy Innis just to name a few.  Our mothers and fathers, grandparents and ancestors should have been honored with more dignity and respect.  With a man of African descent ascending to the highest office on the planet we must not allow this opportunity come and go without changing ourselves, too.  I know its going to be hard.  I know the internal rage that burns within us all is a monster to contain.  I weep at things I never saw but know occurred and those tears often turn to anger. 

Then there are the painful things that have actually occurred to us or we've witnessed occurred to members of our families because of our skin color.  Those scars never go away.  Overcrowded schools, indifferent teachers, homes with no heat and many other embedded obstacles will not fade away overt the next 24 hours.

Somehow we have to take the immense joy of tomorrow and make sure it's not an ephemeral moment and make sure that when history is finally written it will not be the singular story of one Black man that had audacity and charm.  Of course we want the story to say he united the nation, pulled the country (and world in the process) out financial Armageddon and elevated all Americans to new heights.  But the fact of the matter is Barack Obama can't elevated any of us to new heights unless we are pulling our own weight.  We have been asking to be judged by the content of our character for centuries and that day is upon us. 

In all honesty many of us weren't prepared to get what we were asking for but the moment of truth is here.  Now is the time to embrace the common sense and God-fearing knowledge our grandmothers in the south and Caribbean tried to teach us.  Now is the time to read to our children at night.  Now is the time to let our sons learn the cello and our daughters' dream of being CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  Now is the time to demand more from ourselves.  Now is the time say no thanks to drugs and dropping out of school.  Now is the time to say thanks for more homework and for tougher exams at school.  Now is the time to celebrate the neighborhood nerd in a manner that makes the best jock on the block only the second most popular kid around.  Now is the time to embrace individuality, we don't all have to keep it real, listen to the same music or even vote for just one political party. 

Now is the time to free ourselves from mental bondage that has eaten away at our inner core, stifled our imaginations and blunted our innate urge to rise though any problem.  Lets not forget a race of people that have been able to survive slavery, go from Kuta Kinte to Barack Obama are special and capable of anything.

Our entire nation faces a huge challenge and there is a giant shadow of fear that may be swept aside for a day but will be impossible to ignore the rest of the year.  The truth is we are all being ripped apart through finger pointing and the blame game.  The rich say the poor deserves to lose their homes and too bad if they didn't read their mortgage contracts and the poor say the rich belong in jail. 

The new administration hasn't taken office yet and there is in-fighting among the democrats on how to spend the money while the republicans are on the outside looking confused and battered but still hoping to get their two cents in as well.   So, between a big time money grab, unrelenting anger and legitimate questions on how to stem the economic tsunami anyone waiting for the government to resolve their personal problems has a long line to get in.

There is no doubt what's good for America is good for all Americans but make no mistake while we are on the precipice of one of the shiniest moment in the history of Black people in America we can't be lulled into thinking its clear sailing from here.  For many tomorrow marks the proudest moment in our history since the Emancipation Proclamation and yet September 2nd 1862 didn't mark the end of racism or discrimination and tomorrow, despite the magic, all of our hurdles will not flatten or disappear.  Part of the road ahead has to be paved through content of character, personal accountability and determination.

Tomorrow is the beginning of another chapter in our story not the end of the long journey.  Barack Obama has made it to that mountain top that Doctor King talked about…its up to the rest of us to follow in his footsteps. 

God Bless America.

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