Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama is not the only sign of change

By DeWayne Wickham

The call came just as I was walking to the first tee at the Innisbrook Golf Club, part of a Florida resort that was recently purchased by Sheila Johnson, a co-founder of the BET cable television network and America's first black female billionaire.

The voice on the other end of the line was a senior member of Barack Obama's transition team who invited me to join a small group of "progressive" columnists and commentators for a meeting with the president-elect, seven days before being sworn in as this nation's first black president.

Standing near me when I got the call was Rodney Green, a black PGA professional Johnson hired to run the four golf courses at her fashionable resort, which caters to well-to-do tourists from around the world and Americans who can afford to spend their winters in the warm embrace of Florida's perpetual sunshine.
He, too, is a pioneer — perhaps the first black to run the golf operations at a major resort in the U.S.

Days later, I thought about Johnson and Green as I sat at a conference table for the off-the-record conversation with Obama in his Washington transition headquarters.

Like the president-elect, Johnson and Green are relatively new to the public arena. Johnson earned her wealth in the shadow of Bob Johnson, her former husband, who was the public face of BET for many years. Green was a little-noticed, top executive at Disney World's golf courses for nearly 12 years before moving to Innisbrook in December.

All three are trailblazers.

Of course, the attention of much of the world will be on Obama when he stands on the steps of the Capitol to take the oath of office Tuesday.

His inauguration is expected to bring millions of people to Washington for a celebration that rivals the one that greeted the 1829 swearing-in of Andrew Jackson, the first president drawn from the ranks of "ordinary" Americans.

Obama is this nation's first chief executive who shares a common heritage with the people this country once enslaved.

In my lifetime, nothing has signaled change more than the interracial, multiethnic, multigenerational coalition that swept Obama to a landslide victory in the presidential election.
His election excited people all around the world who look to the United States for moral and political leadership.

While Obama's election represents an important change, the great promise of America is the success of people like Green and Johnson.

As Obama has repeatedly said since Nov. 4, this nation has just one president at a time.
But last year, Forbes magazine reported that there are at least 400 Americans with a net worth of $1 billion or more. There are also hundreds of PGA professionals.

And while you can count the number of black billionaires on one hand and might need only two hands to count the number of black golf pros, it is the progress that America makes in areas likes these — more than the presence of a black man in the White House — that will help this nation realize its great promise.

Obama understands this.

"I'm running because I believe that together, we can change history's course," he said during a September 2007 campaign speech at Howard University.

As much as he hopes his administration will put America on a new course, Obama envisions a country that is changing for the better at every level. Not just in the Oval Office, but in its boardrooms and playing fields, too.

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