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Obama speech draws crowd at Northeastern

Talia Whyte

The coincidence was not lost on the crowd at Northeastern University’s John D. O’Bryant African American Institute.

Those who gathered to watch Sen. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech last Thursday evening at the Democratic National Convention were very much aware that the event fell on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Black students, alumni and staff members from Northeastern and other surrounding schools came together to watch the Illinois senator address an estimated audience of 84,000 at Denver’s Invesco Field. As they did, they also reflected on how much — or how little — race relations have progressed since King spoke about the need for racial equality during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom back in 1963.

Northeastern alum Leona Madison and her daughter, Kimberly, said they felt honored to share this moment. The elder Madison, who now lives in Virginia, said that Obama’s nomination highlights how much closer America has moved toward racial harmony.

“This is wonderful, and this is a historic moment for the whole nation,” she said. “This is a historic moment for children to learn about how far in life they can go.”

During the primaries, Kimberly Madison said, she was torn between voting for either Obama or his former rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Over time, after looking carefully at both candidates’ positions, she was persuaded by Obama’s platform. But the younger Madison still found Clinton to be a formidable candidate, and was disappointed by what she called the sexism Clinton faced from the media.

“I think Hillary did very well in the race,” said Kimberly Madison, a graduate student at Tufts University. “A lot of people wanted her to drop out of the race earlier. But I am glad that she stayed in as long as she did.”

The Obama campaign’s use of new media has revolutionized voter involvement in American politics. The Madisons are on Obama’s text message list, and both received the news on their phones on the morning of Aug. 23 that Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was chosen to be the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Before Obama delivered his acceptance speech, Kimberly Madison received another text from the campaign reminding her to watch.

“This is how young people communicate with each other today,” she said. “This is why Obama has been successful, because he is tapping into that energy.”

Jean Lespinasse also said he was impressed with the campaign’s use of social networking. But the Northeastern freshman from Mattapan is more interested in what Obama would actually do if elected. Foreign policy and the economy are the top issues of concern to Lespinasse, and he said he hopes an Obama administration can restore Americans’ confidence in the country’s approach to both.

Lespinasse also said he believes that Obama’s campaign and possible election provides Americans the opportunity to have more honest discussions about race relations in the U.S.

“Obama getting elected will not end racism in America, but I think it will allow more people to want to question what it means to be black in America,” he said. “Barack Obama is the manifestation of many black people who came before him who laid down the line to help other African Americans go further.”

Calvin Brown, a freshman at Berklee College of Music, said he is happy to see the enthusiasm of other blacks awakened by Obama’s nomination. But Brown noted that if Obama is elected, he will need to address not only those issues that affect African Americans, but also ones that impact all Americans, like health care and education.

For the time being, though, Brown said he wanted to relish the historic moment.

“I don’t see [Obama] as a black leader,” he said. “I just see an American leader.”