Thirteen-year-old Jordan Joseph, of Baton Rouge, doesn’t remember too much about politics before Barack Obama ran for president.
He’s part of a young generation that now sees having a black president as the norm, or at least close to it.
As such, he was part of a group of Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Academy students in Baton Rouge this past week who made the bus trip up to Washington, D.C. for Inauguration Day, which just so happened to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
“It inspires me to know I have a black president and to know I can be anything I want to be,” Joseph said.
Sure, like so many 13-year-olds, Joseph wants to become a professional basketball player, but he also said – after visiting the U.S. Capitol – that he would like to have a congressional office one day too.
And, even though today’s youth didn’t live through the Civil Rights era, they certainly learn all about it in school.
“We came a long way by not having a chance to vote, and now we have it, and now we have a good president,” Joseph said.
English and art teacher Arlene Mossey, who organized the trip, lived through the days of segregation and knows how much the nation has progressed.
“They won’t know unless we tell them and keep retelling and retelling to make sure they know our history,” Mossey said, who added that seeing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial for the first time was “just a bit overwhelming.”
“They (the students) have developed a sense of pride to accomplish something we were told was impossible,” she said.
Albert Samuels, a Southern University political scientist, said he appreciates more, as a parent of a 12-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son, being able to teach them “the sky’s the limit.” Having a black president now serving a second term is a big part of that, he said.
“They’re growing up seeing there’s no problem with this,” Samuels said. “That it’s almost like this is the way it’s always been.
“You think, ‘Isn’t this what we always wanted?’” he added.
But that positive thinking must be taken with a “grain of salt” because minorities still face barriers in this country, he said.
Obama’s re-election is almost more important in some ways because it proves 2008 was no “aberration,” Samuels said.
In the 2008 Democratic primary, Samuels said that his son was rooting for Obama and that his daughter preferred Hillary Clinton. They considered it normal that a black man and a woman were arguably the top contenders for the presidency.
“Maybe it’s a signifier that perhaps something fundamental has changed in our country,” Samuels said. “Young people do recognize it. I think young people are ahead of us.
“They almost don’t see race as any barrier at all.”
Similarly, younger people are much more accepting of gay rights, he added.
Another one of the Martin Luther King students who made the trip to Washington, Laurelle White, 12, said she is reminded not to take having an African-American president for granted because she knows Obama made history.
“It feels great to have a black president for the first time,” she said.
White said she “loved” the president’s inauguration speech. Joseph said his favorite part was Obama discussing equal “individual rights” for all Americans.
“The experience was good,” White said. “We were watching it on the jumbotron (in the National Mall) and seeing it the best we could.”
But maybe another sign that having a black president has become the norm for young African-Americans today is what White described as her favorite part of the trip — riding the Washington Metro underground rail system. And, let’s be honest, riding the Metro is pretty fun the first time.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is email@example.com.