Monday, 26 January 2009

Heading Back To The UK

I came to Washington DC on a journey to witness history. Today I pack my bags and head back to sunny London :) with more self belief and determination that we live in a world where even the largest of obstacles can be overcome.

A friend brought me a book for Christmas (Acts of Faith, Iyanla Vanzant) that has an inspirational saying for everyday of the year. Yesterdays words of wisdom were 'Check out your own belief system'. It goes on to say 'your belief system determines your environment, your abilities and the way you approach life's experiences'. Obama's Presidency really threw my belief system out there for scrutiny. Obama's Presidency made me realise that my belief system was not secure. I still had subconscious doubts within myself that i did not even know existed until recently.

My journey to Washington DC was about witnessing history. Now i go home with my head a little more higher, my confidence that much more stronger, reassured with the knowledge that anything is possible with hard work, determination and self belief.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Are Black Schools A Solution In Solving The Rising Epidemic of Violent Crime Within The Black Community In The UK?

Some may argue that Black schools go against the whole premise of the Civil Rights Movement whilst others may feel that Black schools only promote self segregation between Black students and those from other racial backgrounds. Whilst in Washington DC i decided to take myself down to Howard University, the University that has been dubbed 'The Black Harvard' because of it's reputation for producing highly talented Black graduates.

I recall Lee Jasper in September 2008 calling for the opening of Black schools in the UK and the main stream media had a field day with him. At the time i must admit i did not pay that much attention to the issue but thought hey i'm in town lets see what all the fuss is about. As i walked up to Howard the first thing that struck me was the Campus. It was huge in comparison to most universities i had visited back home. Outside the local Starbucks five young Black males could be seen loitering around. In London they could have easily been mistaken as a gang as they are wearing hoodies (the supposedly new symbol of gang membership). The big give away, however, is that they are wearing blue trousers, screaming out to everyone around them that in fact these guys are trainee doctors.

The first person i stopped and talked to was Michael. J. Daniels who is a Howard Alumni. Micheal informed me that he had grown up in the ghetto in Bronx, New York and had been eager to gain a sense of 'self belonging and identity as a Black man' which he felt only Howard could give him. He went on to say that 'even though many people in America and around the world thought that it would be impossible for a Black man to become President of the United States, at Howard students are instilled within them a sense of confidence that as a Black man you can do anything' and as a result Obama's presidency did not really come as a surprise to him.

Margery a 19 year old Business Marketing major stated that 'Howard is not limited to African Americans. However, Howard does a phenomenal job bringing up Black students'. Margery informed me that she had previously been to a predominantly 'White High School' but felt more at home being around 'Black people with the same drive and ambition'.

Camille, a 19 year old Speech Pathology student spoke about her upbringing in a predominantly White and Asian area in the suburbs of Georgia. For Camille, going to Howard was about being in an environment where 'she could experience her culture first hand' an experience she had not gained whilst growing up at home.

Shakiyah, an 18 year old freshman said of her experience at Howard so far that she feels a 'sense of involvement with the community'. She continued 'we are all one colour but we are all so different and diverse, we are not the same. At Howard they do not try to promote any form of segregation but do not let us forget who we are and where we have come from'.

I sat down on a bench to gather my thoughts and reflect on the information that had been given to me. Black schools and colleges in America were born out of oppression, because previously Black people were not allowed to go to school. Today Howard stands strong as a blossoming child born out of bondage. But would such a move be able to work in the UK and more importantly what would it achieve?

I went into Howard thinking that it would work (on a similar premise to faith based schools, Asian schools, etc). Howard undeniably turns teenagers into young men and women who are confident within themselves and are ready to face lifes challenges. However, after talking to so many students i felt that such institutions work in America because of the history attached. In the UK, if Black schools were to be implemented on a mainstream basis i am unsure if they could achieve the same kind of reputation that is needed to compete in today's global market (i.e. a Black Cambridge). I doubt that the mainstream media would be behind it also (see post The Media And Why A Black Prime Minister Is A Long Long Way Of).

What i do feel is needed though is more programs like The Young Ambassadors ( and other such mentoring programs that have clear goals and objectives that can be measured to help give Black British youth a sense of identity and inner confidence that will allow them to turn away from a life of crime.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

At The Inauguration of President Barack Obama

My day started at about 6am, not that i had slept the night before with all the excitement and things going on in Washington DC. Lines had already been formed at the nearest Starbucks and masses of people could be seen walking towards U Street subway station. By the time i entered the train there was know where to sit as hundreds bundled on. 

I found my self at a total gridlock on 10th and E steet locked side by side between thousands of people. On the building to my right a large American flag waves in the wind as a shop blares African drums to the people below. The irony of that on a day like this i thought. It took about 3 hours to get through security and the American people were really patient, polite and orderly. A women summed it up when she said 'we are waiting for Obama, i don't care how long it takes ill wait patiently until i get through'. I overheard a White middle age man telling Kayla, an African American 9th grader that 'one day all these people will be queing for you because if you work hard at school you can become the first Black female President'.

The security was very intense and the army, police and secret service were visible everywhere my head turned. Once through security i set up my position and waited excitedly at my location, 1000 Pennsylvania Avenue. Silence falls over the crowd as Obama takes his oath. Every time he pauses the crowd cheers. The sound of a Violin bellows down on the awaiting crowd for a short period. I looked up at the clear blue sky and saw about 30 birds flying together in rhythm to the music, as if they too were rejoicing in the celebrations. When the speaker announces the end of President Bush's term the crowd clap and smile enthusiastically. When Obama is finally reintroduced as the 44th President of the United States the crowd erupts into breathtaking screams and claps. Some people hug, others cry. A man to my side lets out a loud 'oh my God' whilst i hear an African American woman mutter under her breath 'I can not believe this'. 

When Obama addresses the crowd as their next President a hush of silence falls again, and when he mentioned Bush's name in his speech there were also a few boos and jeers. 

As we wait for the parade and a glimpse of Obama the music is turned back on. The first three songs are Aint No Mountain High Enough and Freedom, both by Aretha Franklin and then Celebrations by Kool and the gang. All fitting songs that summed up the mood and the time.

When Obama walked past our eyes locked for a brief second. This moment was so surreal and brought everything into perspective. He has managed to make a personal connection with each and every person who supports him. From what i have witnessed there is not a doubt in my mind that America loves Obama. He is like their Moses leading the people into a new land.

The Inauguration Through My Lens

Camera and video men/women situated on rooftops to get a good shot of The Obama's.

The position where i was situated whilst watching the parade

Police from all over America line the parade route.

A poster on a shop window.

Army march through at the parade.

Signs outlining bag restrictions.

Joe Biden and his wife Jill Walk past.

Me in the crowd. 

President Barack Obama walks past with his wife Michelle Obama.

People were selling Obama memorabilia everywhere i turned.

Some kids walk on past with Martin Luther King jumpers 'I have a Dream'.

9 year old Kayla waits in the crowd to see Obama.

Americans Towards Bush On The Dawn Of A New Era

If a picture speaks a thousand words then the one above says a lot about Americans and their attitude towards President Bush Jnr. Standing high up above a crowd of at least 3000 this women could be seen as far as the eye could see and not one person stood up for Bush. As soon as the lady held up her placard the crowd burst into a loud simultaneous cheer. People clapped whilst others laughed and took photos. As planes flew over the people pointed up and shouted bye Bush.

It seems that Bush has become a common enemy, which has helped unite the American people.

Security At Obama's Inauguration

Police lined the street for the whole 1.5 miles.

Secret Service on top of buildings

A man being body searched by security

Secret Service

When Obama first won the Democratic nomination many feared that he would be assassinated. I can confirm that whatever worries people may have for his safety, they need not. Security around Obama is ridiculously tight. Washington was probably the most safest place in the whole world yesterday. It took about 3 hours get through security alone. Whole roads were blocked of with buses and then secured via police to make sure no one slipped through the net. Before anyone could be within a one mile radius of the President everybody was subject to a thorough check. I'm talking metal detectors, airport style security scanners, body searches... you name it. Every single special unit force in America was their and a reported 70000 extra police were drafted in as precaution.  

10 people were arrested for pushing down a security barrier (Washington DC police do not play) and Secret Service were everywhere. 

Monday, 19 January 2009

Obamania In Washington DC

Washington is officially at this moment in time Obamania Land. It is not possible to walk more than one block without someone trying to sell you some Obama merchandise or to see an Obama shop window. Obama posters and fliers are everywhere!!! 

It's crazy right now!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

My first Obama Experience In Baltimore, Maryland.

A spectator waves as Obama steps out

Just about to go through security

Obama, Biden and their wives greet the crowd

On Saturday 17th January i went to the War Memorial in Baltimore, Maryland to hear Obama speak at his last stop before he becomes president. As we drive into Baltimore the scenery changes and i begin to feel the mood shift also. Everywhere my eyes lay i see people wearing Obama tops and people on the side selling merchandise.

I can feel the excitement glide through the air and a slow wave of anticipation begins to creep in. I've never experienced such an atmosphere of euphoria before. As we approach the war memorial I begin to see large groups of people all walking in one direction. We park and begin following the crowds whilst street vendor after street vendor tries to flog us Obama merchandise. Approximately 600 yards from where Obama is to deliver his final address security posts have been erected.

Each time the speaker announced a new guest to the stage the crowed huffed and moaned. Not because they disliked the guest but because they had come here for one man and one man only - Barack Obama. Obama chose Baltimore, Maryland as the final stop of his Abraham Lincoln Memorial Train Tour as a way to thank the residents for their support so early on in the campaign.

When Obama finally addressed the crowed the people roared and i found myself in the middle of what can only be described as an earthquake of joy. The ground literally shook as people screamed "Obama, Obama". Nothing can prepare you for what it actually feels like - a rock concert does not come close.

When he speaks a quilt of silence spreads over the crowd. Obama's preacher like voice sounds like a man who has years of wisdom on his shoulders. A tear fell down my face as the enormity of his presence weighed down on me. When he left the crowd stayed back as if hypnotized. As i turned back around i saw the most beautiful image - about 2000 people waving in unison at Obama as he comes back for a short final farewell.

That moment for me summed up Obama's achievement thus far.

One man has been able to unite so many people from the bottom up, for a common cause and a common purpose. From what i have just witnessed i have prematurely concluded that this moment is far bigger than just having an African American in the White House. Whether Obama succeeds or fails as president America has changed because of him for the good. The only people that can undue this unity is not Obama but the American people themselveles.

The Media and Why A Black Prime Minister is A Long Long Way Off...

Whilst in a bar in Washington DC i glimpsed a TV and was greeted by two young African American newscasters. To everyone else around me this is nothing unusual, but for me a 23 year old Black British female this is as foreign to me as continental breakfast.

In the UK it is extremely rare to see any young Black men or women on TV dressed smartly talking about issues other than music. If we as a country can not have a realistic portrayal of young Black Britain then we should not be trying to discuss a Black Prime Minister. We shouldn't run before we can walk. A generation is growing up without anybody of their age that they can look at and identify with on TV as another alternative to entertainment. 

This media stumbling block is important especially when you look at Obama's rise to the presidency. Obama was able to get to where he is today because the American people are used to seeing a variety of different Black people of all ages in positions of power and influence on the screen. To add to this there are many many Black script writers, casting directors producers and so forth working behind the screen. Despite the improbability of Obama's ambition, there was still a ray of hope because the media had played a profound role in socialising the American people into breaking down stereotypes of Black people. In Britain the stereotypes are rife and the media only seem to reaffirm this incorrectly by the disgraceful lack of alternative personalities.

We are a long long way (i'm talking about generations) from having a Prime Minister of colour. If we want Britain to be a land where everyone has a fair chance to be the Prime Minister the balance of equal opportunities in the media needs to be addressed.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

A Trip to the White House.

My friend and i went to the whitehouse to check out the preparation thus far. Already security barriers, police and dogs are visible. Despite the -6 degrees (which in fact feels like -20!) there are a sizable amount of tourists/journalists interviewing and taking pictures. 

I viewed Obama's inaugural box, which has a transparent wall around it. On the right hand side stadium like chairs can be seen (i am informed that this is where ticket holders will be seated). I was also told that for those who do not have tickets will still be given entry between the bleachers on a first come basis.

The mood is still calm, but most conversation around me has some sort of Obama tint to it. Every magazine, poster or newspaper i have come across has the theme hope or change somewhere in it. This seems to be the new buzz words and advertisers can not get enough of it for their products.

American flags sway from left to right gently in the breeze everywhere i turn. The cold air eats at my body but still i snap away knowing that these days only come around but once so am trying to make the most of it.

A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words - My Day In Pictures

Obama's Inaugural Box

Outside the Whitehouse preparation has already begun. This is where Obama will deliver his speech.

Macpherson Train Station
Three men stand by the sign to the Whitehouse.

Journalists Already 
Camera crews filming the preparation for the inauguration.

Train Sign
Signs have already been erected around subway stations for the expected 4 million spectators that are expected to transcend on Washington DC.

President Obama and I

The President and i share a private joke in the Whitehouse.

Friday, 16 January 2009

My First Morning.

I wake up and take a look outside at the picturesque Friday morning. The sky is blue and the winter weather has eaten away at the trees leaving a quilt of brown as far as my eyes can see. Despite the perfect scenery, outside is cold. Not like an English winters day where the air is mixed with damp and gloom, the air is just cold. plain and simple!

Today i'm going out on a tour to make myself familiar with the area before Tuesday. I'll keep you updated on what i find.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Diversity On The BA217

If the diversity of my fellow passengers on the plane is an indicator of what to expect in Washington DC then i predict that the 20th of January will not just be remembered for Obama's Inauguration but the largest mix of people united in one place for a common cause in all of history. This is going to be amazing. I do not even know what to expect. 

When i land i am greeted at the Customs and Border check points with pictures of American citizens with the text 'Welcome' below. The posters are of people from all different shades, black, white, asian, hispanic and a picture of two muslim ladies smiling. I found these pictures said a lot about America. Although it was great to see America showing of their diversity as soon as i touched down from the plane, in not one of the pictures were the different nationalities mixing together. There was one picture with five black men. Another with one White middle age lady smiling overlooking a meadow. Two hispanic teenagers sitting on a step together laughing. One Black child smiling into the camera lens and so forth.

I got the feeling that although America may be racial tolerant in one respect, mixing and interacting with different cultures is not something that America wants to promote. Which is why the presidency of an African American to the highest office in the land must be even more surreal. 

In front of me a man with a Ugandan passport approaches the check points. I assume he also is on a journey to witness Obama's swearing in. As i arrive to collect my baggage (thankfully BA did not loose it) i am greeted by a group of ladies in African attire. I approach them and am informed that they have come from Sierre Leone to witness Obama's ushering in. Around me there are many people of colour ranging from Asian to African to European all calmly trying to locate their luggage.

I am unsure if they're all here for Obama but when my eye locks on to a Black young lady on the other side of the baggage collection we share an unspoken look - as if we both know why we're here. And i resign myself to the conclusion that whether all these people have come to Washington DC purposely for Obama or not, they will be celebrating nevertheless. 

And So The Journey Begins...

Finally the long awaited journey to Washington DC has arrived. After 24 hours of non stop bustling around and frantic packing i am now comfortably on the BA217. 

Whilst awaiting for my flight at Heathrow terminal 5, four suave looking men from Africa were seated directly in front of me. In their finest perfect fitting suits, designer hand luggage and hair freshly trimmed - on any other day one could easily mistake this group as being on their way to a wedding. I take a glance around and in fact everyone is dressed quite dapper and exchanging light conversation. On the left of me a brunette lady is talking to a blonde haired lady who is perched between two pillars. The conversation is about Obama and how they plan to submit their story's to the editors on time. All around me the talk is about Obama and i feel a sense of joy that i am able to sit amongst so many strangers who are all on a common journey to witness an impossible story become reality.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Recession Turns New Graduates Into Lost Generation

The beginning of a new year is meant to signal a fresh start and new beginnings. For those that have recently graduated, however, 2009 signals the job Tsunami.

Its bad enough that last year employees did not have the money to employ and train new recruits who were just starting out on their career path. Now we are confronted with another wave of disaster. Job cuts! Serious job cuts. So, just when we thought it could not get anymore grimmer... it did! And mind you we are not even half way through January.

The recession is particularly hard on the fresh graduates because without relevant experience to compliment your degree, your worthless. Then there is the option to intern, which is great for experience. But in these times it is highly unlikely that once you have finished your internship you will be offered a permenant paid position. The company will simply say bye and bring in another fresh graduate to take your spot to save costs. Or even more discouraging is a lot of companies no longer have the space to even take on free labour. And so it continues. Meanwhile, you have no money and your experience becomes less important and relevant. Previously students and graduates could at the very least rely on the retail sector for some part time or full time work to subsidise. But not any more. Retail jobs are as scarce as the banking industry jobs itself!So job rejection after rejection, internship after internship the exhausted, defeated graduate goes to the job centre to look for work and sign on in the hope that one day soon they will be able to work in a graduate position, progress and put into practice all the dreams hatched up whilst at university.

Fast forward two years to 2011. The end of the recession looks eminent. Companies are aggressively on the look out for fresh new talent. Everyone seems optimistic. Ahhhhhhhh.But hold on. What is going to happen to all those graduates that left uni and have been out of work in a graduate field for the past two years? How are they going to sell themselves as relevant to the company when they have not even touched a report or powerpoint since graduating? And more importantly they'll be a new influx of fresh talent hungry, eager and straight out of university waiting to fill those positions. What employer will want to resist that batch?Meanwhile, there will be a lost generation. Battered, bruised and unemployable.What is the government going to do?

Is Dati a friend or a foe to the struggle of Womens Rights?

Unless you have been hybernating in a distant planet it would have been nearly impossible to have avoided all of the controversy regarding the French justice Minister, Ms Dati and her return to work five days after giving birth (by caesarean section) last week.It is fair to say that women the world over have had (and are still having) a long and tumultuous fight for maternity rights. Many have argued that Dati's actions have single-handedly set women back in this area whilst others openly attack her on not spending enough time to bond with her baby. Personally when I am in a position to have a child I couldn't even invision wanting to leave my baby so early on. However, I thought that the struggle for Women's Rights was not about doing one thing or the other but about having a choice and being able to exercise that choice freely. Ms Dati can be a controversial figure at the best of times. But In my opinion whether you like her or not, attacking her on this issues does not only set women back but also undermines the message of the Women's Rights Movement.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Where are the British Michelle Obama's?

As i embark on my journey to Washington DC for Barack Obama's Inauguration and the weight of this monumental day draws closer and closer i can't help but think of Michelle Obama.The election of Barack Obama as president undoubtedly means that the worlds eyes will also be focused on the "rock" of the Obama household.

If Michelle thought that the scrutiny she faced during the primaries was suffocating, then I hope for her sake that she has quickly become accustomed to it as the past two years was merely an indicator of what to expect in the next four and maybe even eight years. In the UK in my lifespan there has never been a strong female in the public eye who is highly intelligent, confident, fashionable, outspoken and balances all these skills with the responsibility of having a seemingly perfect family that people want to emulate. Not forgetting that she never compromises her femininity. The fact that this female in particular happens to be a women of colour is even more awe inspiring.

This is because for me in more ways than one she opitimises a dream that in the UK seems unattainable. I can not think of many Black women in England that are publicised in a prominent manner who are in an influential position. In England there are a lot of Michelle Obama's but they are surprisingly hidden out of sight and out of reach. I really do love Michelle Obama. But what would make me, a young Black British woman even more proud would be to see many more UK women being publicised in the same way.

Why Obama's Victory Is Important For Black Britons.

Having read a lot of facebook status updates regarding Obama’s victory it came as a huge shock to me to find a significant amount of people, in particular Black British people, feeling that Obama’s victory is something that should not be celebrated. That ‘It’s over hyped’. ‘He’s in America, it has nothing to do with the UK’. ‘He’s just a political puppy’. ‘He’s not going to do anything for Black people’.

My views on all of the above vary. However, whatever you think of Obama’s success; whether you agree with his policies; whether you are uninterested in his achievement because it happened far away in a distant country that you feel no personal connection with – it can not be taken away that what he achieved on the 4th of November 2008 signals an era for Black Britons who have become disillusioned in their own abilities. That there is nothing you cannot achieve as long as you believe in yourself. Those students, of all races, who have just come out of university and may be finding it hard to find a job in the area they would like can now have hope along with a new sense of drive that just because something may be hard or seem unattainable, under know circumstance should you give up chasing your dreams. Those young single mothers who work hard to provide for their kids can keep solace that it’s not all in vain, and despite what the news tells us – again with hard work and determination those little kids can grow up to defy conventional wisdom and ultimately be a leader of the next generation.

For those whose parents have come from different countries and settled in the UK with a hope that we – their children – will have a better life, that their struggles are not in vain. There is now living proof that no one can deny. To those pundits that portray on the media that all Black men are irresponsible and have no family values - Obama's victory is a huge victory for all the Black men out there who are just like him, they love there woman, adore their kids and do all they can to provide and make a happy home.So agree with him or not. Obama’s victory is an iconic symbol that it doesn’t matter what your genetic makeup is, it doesn’t matter what your circumstance is, all that matters is that you have self belief in your self and have the determination and the enduring fight to chase your dreams!!!

And for those that say he is not going to do anything for Black people. What more do you want him to do? The African race in history has never been a begging race!!! Obama has lead a path – and I hope that many see this is an opportunity to seek their dreams – and in doing so in time we will come to see Obama’s victory as not just a day of celebration, but a day that had a domino effect on the rest of the world – and for Black Britons in the UK.
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