Today's inauguration of President Barack Obama is the source of unparalleled pride in African American communities throughout the nation and rightfully so. Many cannot believe that a person of color is now the leader of the free world, working and living in a home built on the backs of slaves. That poetic irony is at the core of much of today's emotional celebrations. But the quest for equality is not over in this country and it is somewhat troubling that any of today's events could signal to some that years of prejudice, double standards or bias are over. It does force us to ask however, just when we might mark that day and I am tempted to consider that equality will be achieved when we elect a mediocre person of color to the White House. Yes, the day we elect a Latino or African American C+ student who meanders in the shadows of a privileged family and whose quest for political office is no more than after thought--well, then I suppose that may just be the day we can propose equality has arrived.
Make no mistake that Barack Obama is an exceptional individual. Any careful examination of his life will detail a person who did not grow up with a privileged posture of knowing his admission to the elite schools he attended was a given. He worked exceptionally hard to access the finest schools in the country, competed to be at the head of his class, and dedicated countless hours to demonstrate his mastery of law in a competitive environment that can be humbling at best and a terrifying daily struggle at worst. His achievements at a young age speak to enormous focus, dedication and yes, "street smarts" to navigate Washington politics. He did all that without the kind of family history or family name that opens doors, creates access and circumvents the political landmines he has faced.
President Obama begins his tenure in the White House resting solely on his tenaciousness, the hard work of his election team and a fundamental faith in his dreams. He's far from average and perhaps that truly is what great civic leadership must be--extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Is it possible that the first election of an African American to the highest office has finally set the bar for standards we should have followed all along? Now, that is poetic irony!