We love to tell our daughters and sons that they can achieve anything, become anything they dare to dream. Study hard, work hard, we say, and there is no limit to what you can achieve.
This was the mantra of my grade-school years. Nice sentiment. But I doubt those well-meaning white teachers really believed it applied to people like me. They knew it would take much more than a dream for a little black girl — or indeed any girl — to reach her full potential.
In our male-driven culture, where we have yet to achieve racial, gender or economic equality and where justice for all remains an elusive notion, we betray those ambitious words every day. Still, we cling desperately to this beautiful, necessary lie. Because to believe otherwise is to admit defeat.
If we are blessed, fate steps in and the unimaginable happens. President Barack Obama happens. We break free from the lie and the potential suddenly becomes reality. In one of the country's brightest moments, Americans of all persuasions united, more than 69 million strong, to elect him. Black voters turned out in record numbers and gave him 95% of their votes. That night in 2008, it felt like a jubilee.
Now eight years later, Hillary Clinton is the first woman ever nominated by a major party to be president of the United States. Again, we have an opportunity to free ourselves from the lie. Armed with a resume of experiences and achievements that make her one of the most qualified people ever to run for the office (it frankly puts her opponent, Donald Trump, to shame) Clinton promises to fight for women's rights and equal pay.
She pledges to stand up for working families, children and immigrants. She proposes tax breaks for the middle class and affordable college plans. And, for those of us who feel none of this matters if police brutality and the mass imprisonment of black and brown Americans is not addressed, Clinton vows to shepherd in criminal justice reforms and work to dismantle the systematic racism that corrupts our nation.
To hear Clinton's vision for America is to want to believe, all over again.
Though we are battle-weary from the divisiveness of Washington over the past eight years, and from what has to be the nastiest presidential campaign season we've ever seen, we still yearn for the brighter vision. First lady Michelle Obama shared it with a crowd
in North Carolina recently:
"This candidate calls on us to turn against each other, to build walls, to be afraid. And then there's Hillary's vision for this country — a vision of a nation that is powerful and vibrant and strong, big enough to have a place for all of us. A nation where we each have something very special to contribute and where we are always stronger together."
For black Americans especially, the effect of Obama's election cannot be overstated. It's almost impossible to recall the optimism of 2008 (if I hadn't been there, I'd fear it was but a dream), and on that November day, none of us truly understood how deeply the election would affect the course of our nation, our lives, our families.
But on that day, my son changed. My Brooklyn neighborhood changed. It became happier, more friendly, more diverse.
We became more politically active and vocal about issues facing our community. My son became a leader in the classroom, on the basketball court and among his peers. He set ambitious college and career goals that never wavered. He showed a new sense of purpose and inner strength all his own.
Obviously, it would be ludicrous to credit President Obama for all this. All I know is that each night before my son went to bed and each morning when he rose, he looked at the glossy 11x17 color poster of President Obama he'd hung on his wall, the same poster he later took to college and more recently to his first apartment when he became an engineer.
His mom, faith restored, returned to church to pray for the continued safety and success of our President and our nation, something most black folks I know still faithfully do every day. After Obama, I became more focused on mentoring and community service.
At work, I stood taller, smiled more and set new goals, determined to succeed in my ESPN world. But it became less important for me to prove I could excel in a testosterone-charged environment and more vital that I reach for a higher purpose. Watching that beautiful black family in the White House expanded my horizons. I began to think very differently about my God-given potential and my purpose on this Earth.
Agree or disagree with her politics, Hillary Clinton, if she becomes President, will change the world. She will continue to redefine the way we view womanhood in America — and not just for white women — for each of us.
Already I can see new excitement in the eyes the girls in my neighborhood when they talk about Hillary Clinton, daring to dream: "Do you think she'll really win?" they ask me. "I'm so nervous," Sofia said the other day. We all are.
The very idea of a woman as President is something these girls never imagined -- not a Hillary Clinton, and sadly, definitely not themselves.
Hillary Clinton has taught them something new. Win or lose, she has inspired girls to reach for more than just the kind of fame that comes to a Beyoncé or a Katy Perry. Talented and smart women as they are, we need a more diverse model of womanhood that lifts our daughters beyond the realm of entertainment, or even a higher step up the corporate ladder.
Clinton, with her conservative pantsuits and studious demeanor, shows girls (and reminds us all) that for a woman to command the world stage, she needn't wear sexy sequins and perform amazing dance routines. She can be amazing because of her brain, her vision, her ambitions for the world. Her goals can stretch beyond marriage and mothering, to helping others and serving her country.
Hillary Clinton is modeling this for girls and young women and older women, too. She has shown courage, but also the intellect and the vision to step up and lead. She has had the tenacity to keep standing in the face of every fight or failure in her professional or private life. She does not see herself as less than any man.
Why is this so important? If our nation is ever to become something greater than it is today, things must improve for women, who make up 50.8% of the population
It is time. It is time we promoted a vision for women in which our worth is measured by more than how well we can manipulate men or succeed in a male-dominated culture. The fight for women's equality has never been solely about sexual freedoms. It is about my right to fully exist without man-made economic and legislative limitations set up to interfere with my ability to control my destiny, my body and my mind. Hillary Clinton gets this.
A President Hillary Clinton will not solve all our problems. She cannot undo the divisiveness of the past eight years, or more than 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow. She cannot magically empower every woman, especially since many of us, fooled by flattery or flashy lifestyles, refuse to even consider the depths of our oppression. We have been conditioned to value ourselves through the eyes of men.
But a generation of American women and men will learn something new: to never underestimate the power of a woman. Since the beginning of creation, we have been ordained to greatness. We have ruled over rich cultures and nations. Women have led many of today's most successful economies, including India, Great Britain and Germany, and even smaller progressive countries such as Costa Rica and Liberia.
Women leading in the world is not a new notion. It's time for America to catch up.