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Arizona Republic - He is the Message

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Arizona Republic - He is the Message

Amid thunderous cheers and a rolling sea of placards bearing his name, Barack Obama strode center stage to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston.

The power and poignancy of Obama's words electrified the audience and awakened the political world. "Tonight is a particular honor for me," said the senator from Illinois. "Because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely."

Unlikely, indeed.

That the son of a Black Kenyan father and White Kansas mother - an improbable merging of Eastern Africa and the American Midwest - has a realistic chance to become the nation's 44th president is a stirring moment in the American story.

As Obama campaigns today in Arizona, we contemplate the meaning of his candidacy and the statement it makes about our nation. In many ways, it tells us who we are today and how far we've come as a people.

Obama embodies the past century of struggle, in which Blacks rose victorious from the second-class citizenship of Jim Crow to the boardrooms of our biggest corporations and the bench of our highest court. Both a Black man and woman have successively served as U.S. secretary of State - America's face to the world.

And now at this moment, Obama's moment, we genuinely contemplate the real possibility of an African-American leading the nation.

Obama trails Hillary Clinton by wide margins in the Democratic primary, but he has excited the country with his fundraising prowess and grass-roots appeal. He is a serious player in the most serious game.

For the electorate, Obama prompts a core question many will quietly ask themselves: Does race really matter to me in the voting booth or in life?

It's a question that makes us uncomfortable. We've had to reckon with the monstrous crimes this nation committed against people of color and the guilt that finally provoked. Yet, thinking and talking about race is healthy. We need to do more of it. Obama's rise is both a celebration of America's diversity and reminder of our obligation to pursue its ideals.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, said, "A moment comes, which but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the sound of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

History might one day write that a new sound in America found its "utterance" in the impulse of a young Illinois senator to run for president, an impulse that has provoked real enthusiasm across the country.

His mere presence in this race is a clarion that we are a better nation today, one that has not only learned from its mistakes but is rising well above them.


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