Obama's 'Yes, We Can' meant to inspire blacks
- says President's classmate
A former classmate of United States President Barack Obama is insisting that the leader of the world's most powerful country used his famous campaign chant, 'Yes, We Can', primarily to inspire black people, some of whom felt that there was no hope for them in a society largely dominated by whites.
Donald Loring Brown, a white man who sat in classes at the world-famous Harvard Law School with both Obama and his wife Michelle (Robinson), said that for too long blacks were downtrodden, and the slogan served as a fillip to propel them to greater things.
Obama is due to arrive in Jamaica for a one-day visit next Saturday, April 9, although the purpose and details of his visit have not been made public by either the governments of the United States or Jamaica. He will also participate in a summit of Central American and Caribbean leaders in Panama, starting the next day.
For Brown, a former professional football player who first attended college at age 37 and enrolled at Harvard when he was 41, Obama is one of the most inspirational leaders that the world has seen.
"Barack Obama is a role model and when he got up in front of millions of people in America and said 'Yes, We Can', he was really talking to black people, because all my life in America, black kids would say, 'Well, I'm not really free, I can't be President of the United States', but Obama came at a good time with 'Yes, We Can' which means we can do anything," Brown told the Jamaica Observer, in an interview shortly after he had addressed students of the St Andrew-based International University of the Caribbean during a motivational session last week.
Brown will not even be attempting to catch up with his old friend, with whom he shared notes and argued many points in two years of university association, but knows that his presence will inspire thousands of Jamaicans who look up to him as a signature and symbol of respect.
"Oh absolutely, you can't not be inspired by his presence. He is a very charismatic human being, and when you sit in an audience and listen to him you can't help being moved and walk away saying wow, he is a great speaker and he is genuine. Most politicians aren't genuine. They speak, speak ... and it's all rubbish. What he says, he means and when he says it he means it, because he wouldn't say it otherwise. When you know him and know that he is genuine, it's a treasure to hear him speak, because everything he says is meant for the betterment of the people and he is about all people; he is not about America alone. Some people say he doesn't love the United States and that nonsense, but he loves the world; he is a member of the world population, we all are, and we all should be looking out for each other.
"I hardly ever talk to him since he has been President because it's very hard to get through to him. I talk to Michelle a couple times and I went to the White House once, but he is hard to see because there is a circle around him; you can't get through it, it doesn't matter who you are, because you have to be vetted first and the vetting process is weeks and weeks of stuff. I don't need to see him now; I'll wait until he gets out of office, because he has such a terribly large agenda that he has to deal with. He is coming to Jamaica and every single person in Jamaica wants to see him," Brown said.
And what, in Brown's mind, can Obama come to Jamaica and say to the natives that will make them feel good within?
"He can say what he said in Chicago: 'Yes, We Can'. We can change the world, the students out here, the people in Jamaica, Yes, We Can. We don't have to wait until the Vision 2030, we can change Jamaica today. Why are we waiting until 2030? Let's change Jamaica now, let's make it a First World country now. How do you do that? You have to change the people and how they perceive themselves and what they do with their lives in their world. Like the guys in prison, if you worry about what you are going to do when you get out, you got to decide what you want for your life and then do it.
"Jamaicans are no different from Henry Ford and Chrysler and Oldsmobile and those other people ... they made a choice what they were gonna do with their unemployed selves ... they created the auto companies.
"We still know who General Motors is, we still know Cadillac, Pontiac, Dodge, those are human beings' names. They are not just car names; it's names of those men who built the greatest industry in the world -- the auto industry -- from nowhere, from their own selves and their own character and their own determination. That's what we need to build in these young people who are in university in Jamaica ... get them to know that the whole thing about life is about them and their dreams.
"Some people, among them Jamaicans, think that anything foreign is better than what is here, but I don't see any difference ... we are the world and it's not about America is better, or Britain is better or Canada is better. It's about we are all people, all human beings and together we can make the world a better place to live and that should be our goal in life.
"Anybody who looks at the US as a better place than Jamaica hasn't been to the US, because it's not that much better -- they have a lot of problems and a lot of people live above the problems -- they don't see them but they are there, not much different than here. We don't do as good a job solving problems in America as they do in other countries.
"In Jamaica, we need to focus more on our young people, particularly those in the universities, because without them we don't have a hope. If they get out of here and they are useless, what's going to happen to Jamaica? It's not gonna be Third World, it's gonna be Fifth World, because that's what's going to happen if people don't make the changes. I always tell students this: Read, think and write, plus respect plus you equals self-actualisation," Brown said.
Author of the book The Morphine Dream, which chronicles his life, Brown, among other things, tells the story of how he shrugged off temporary captivity by a wheelchair, to walk across the United States three times, raising millions of dollars for charity.
He had predicted, in a third-year law school thesis at Harvard in 1989, that Obama would become President of the United States. That thesis is now a part of the permanent collection at the Harvard Law School library.
But does he feel that Obama, who is on the final leg of his second mandatory four-year term as US President has impacted the world positively?
"Maybe not as much as I would have expected because he has not had the freedom as President to do things the way he wants to ... he has to play this incredibly goofy game with Congress and the Senate all the time over stupid things and there is so much bad talk in America disrespecting Obama and unwillingness to agree with him and do things. But he has done a lot. If you were to go online and type in the accomplishments of Barack Obama you would be astonished at what he has accomplished. For example -- health care -- it has been talked about for a hundred years, now it's there. It's there when he got into office because he insisted that it had to be there. By insisting in getting that, he had to give in to other interests, and that's the part of Washington that is horrible -- that the President is forced to give in to other people's demands in order to get what he wants.
"I remember in law school Barack Obama said every American should have the same health care as Congress and the Senate and I say to all Americans, make an argument against that -- you can't. He said every American should have the same opportunity for education that I've had. You can't make an argument against that. Every American should have what any American has, and he stands for that principle," Brown said.
As for improving conditions in Jamaica, Brown, a former US Marine, bemoans some of the challenges that face Jamaica, some of which, he believes, can be sorted out with the application of will power.
"The fact that there are the poor, the homeless, the drug addicts, 12-year-olds getting pregnant by 52-year-old men and stuff like that ... it's all nonsense, and it's never gonna change if we don't change it. People say that's the way it is in Jamaica -- no, that's the way you let it be. You have gotta change from within. If Jamaica is going to change its social programmes, it is Jamaicans who gotta change it, not Barack Obama.
"That change will have to come from the universities, but I know that some of the universities in Jamaica do not have enough money. But every university that I know of -- except for the upper tier in America, which is 12 or 15 schools -- doesn't have enough money. Harvard has a hundred billion dollars and as we say in America they have more money than God. My school Amherst now has $25 billion. When I was there they had $200 million ... only 30 years ago.
"When I went to college I was in school with Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the President of Kenya (Jomo), now the President of Kenya; Ben Brown, the author, he was my classmate; Alan Colburn, David Foster Wallace, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Al Gore, all from Harvard Law School ... the university is where it happens. When you sit in Harvard Law School, you can be assured that one of your classmates is going to be a President, because that's what's happened for everybody. Where does this come from? The universities ... the university is the key to Jamaica's problems," Brown said.