Opportunity Still Ahead
By opening up this dialogue, President Obama made this more than just about Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley, more than about African Americans and Whites, more than about town and gown. It became a conversation and that conversation demonstrated many positive aspects of his leadership.
Much has been said about the teachable moment of the affair. Even President Obama was not above learning from it and demonstrated his receptivity to that by acknowledging that his initial response was made in haste and even possibly inflamed the situation further. Good leaders accept their mistakes. Great leaders go beyond that and try to gain something positive from the experience. President Obama used this opportunity to build on the ground he laid in his extraordinary speech on racism following the comments by Reverend Wright during the presidential campaign.
Sitting in the "beer garden" at the White House with Prof Gates and Sgt Crowley, President Obama actualized and put into practice what he said then. He opened up the conversation in a systematic, professional, humane way on an issue that is a most difficult one.
Whenever there is a highly charged issue to be faced, great leaders seek not to perpetuate disagreement, but to find common ground. President Obama used the power of his office, the magnetism of his personality, and the fact of his mixed racial heritage to create a new dialogue around race relations. He has taken an issue that is most difficult for people to confront and has created an opportunity.
President Obama has set the stage. What we need to do now is to seize the opportunity he has created, to understand what our role is upon it and to play our part. It is not a time to look back at past injustices but to look forward. We must determine that we will no longer accept that only 10 percent of African American and Hispanic students who enter 9th grade graduate from college, that in many cities fewer than 50 percent of the students even graduate from high school (39% in Baltimore and 22% in Detroit), that more than two-thirds of people incarcerated are either African American or Hispanic, that the African American and Hispanic communities bear a disproportionate burden of certain diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
The conversation that we need to have is not about Prof Gates and Sgt. Crowley, it is about how to change these facts so that the country as a whole can benefit. There is no better leader than President Obama to have this conversation.
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