America as I knew it

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I can always count on Bill Cosby for a good laugh, but I never thought he would make me cry.

In a recent interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Moderator David Gregory asked Cosby about his voting experience on Nov. 4, 2008.

Cosby replied: “Well, I took my father’s picture, I took my mother’s picture and I took my brother James, he died when he was seven, I was eight. And I took the three of them into the voting booth in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, and I pulled the curtain and I took their pictures out and I said, ‘And now we’re going to vote.’ And I—we only, I only voted once. But—and I did that and their pictures were out, and then I put them back into my pocket and I opened the curtain. And it, and it was wonderful.”

Cosby’s heartfelt answer took me back to my own voting experience. I voted alongside my father, who came of age in rural Mississippi in the 1960s and had dismissed the possibility of a black president in his lifetime.

I thought of my grandparents and great-grandparents who endured the burden of Jim Crow, and my great-great grandparents who died as slaves.

I wish I had had Cosby’s forethought to carry family photographs in my pocket that Tuesday, but I carried my ancestors into the voting booth in my heart.

And it was wonderful.

Tears began to well in my eyes as I left the precinct. I too had dismissed the possibility of a black president in my lifetime, and I’m only 26 years old. I was ill prepared for the gamut of emotions that overwhelmed me later that night. Astonishment. Joy. Pride. Relief.

I write this column before the swearing-in of President Barack Obama, and I’m certain the emotions that washed over me on Election Day will resurface on Inauguration Day. When Obama places his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible, and recites the oath of office, America as I knew it will cease to exist.

Never again will black parents tell their children they can be whatever they want to be, and feel like they are lying. Never again will black children solely look to million-dollar athletes and crude entertainers for inspiration. Never again will I question my worth as an American citizen.

And that is wonderful.