David Seidemann: Breaking down barriers


From the other side of the bench

By David Seidemann

Issue of Jan. 30, 2009 / 5 Shevat 5769

When my father was four, a Jew in Germany could not walk the streets with ease.

When I was four, a black man in America couldn’t eat lunch at the same diner counter as a white man. That same black man could not vote for a commander in chief but could be directed by the very same commander in chief to fight and die in battle protecting our country that treated him as a second class citizen.

I made my children watch the inauguration of our nation’s 44th president because the historic impact of Mr. Obama’s election and inauguration might be the most historically significant event they witness in their lifetime. I want them to be able to say to their children one day that they witnessed a watershed event in United States history. I confess to choking up witnessing elderly African American men and women cry, yes, cry as the events unfolded before them, ushering in an era, a heretofore unimaginable era, in our nation’s history.

A few years ago Mr. Obama lost a democratic state primary, and today, he is President of the United States, arguably, the most powerful person in the world today.

Since Adam and Eve, the world has seen its share of historical events and historical personalities. All too often that moment in time, or person in time, is frozen in time and the great promise of the moment does not bear fruit. One can only hope that when all the pomp, circumstance, and pageantry is over, that an inauguration witnessed by over two million people live and millions more around the globe on television will truly inaugurate, usher in better times. One can only pray that the promise of today’s moment, becomes tomorrow’s success.

Mr. Obama is where he is today because unlike most of us, he had the inner strength to dream, and actively pursue that dream. Most of us don’t even dare to dream of loftier pursuits for fear of not being able to handle the disappointment associated with the failure to ascertain them. And those of us who do dare to dream concede defeat too readily to obstacles that inevitably must be hurdled in transforming a dream into reality.

Those of you who have read my articles over the last two years know where I stand politically. Not withstanding that, anyone, me included, who does not recognize the significance in the events of Nov. 4, 2008 and Jan. 20, 2009 on a national level, and on a personal level, are tuned in to the wrong station. Were one to disagree with every position espoused by Barack Obama and the Democrats, the national significance and the last to first finish of Barack Obama prove that there is no such thing as odds that cannot be overcome if one possess the inner strength to wage battle.

I feel safe in stating that the likelihood of any one reading this article becoming President of the United States, is not great. But I feel just as comfortable stating that each and every one of us in our own daily personal battles to achieve more, and contribute more, and be a better person, can take note and inspiration from the national and personal strides associated with these moments in time. Obama walked a path, and the Nation turned a corner.

There are a few “side shows” of note besides the expectations associated with a new administration. The economy, yes. World wars, yes; those will be the obvious benchmarks. Here are some less obvious ones but important ones. After four or maybe eight years as President, will Mr. Obama still recognize himself? After one or two terms, will his children still be well grounded? Will his wife still be who she is now? The person must create the moment and not be swallowed by the moment.

Another benchmark will be whom can Mr. Obama manage to inspire? I saw a very poignant interview today with an African American teenager who pointed out that until this historic moment, the only dream an inner city black youth had was to be a ball player.  “Today,” he said, “today everything changes. Today I can dream of contributing to America in a different way. Today I can dream of being President.”

I do not mean this in a pejorative, condescending or stereotypical way, but if President Obama can inspire one person to move from dreaming about the basketball court to the Supreme Court, than another benchmark has been achieved.

President Obama’s ascension, measured from where his ancestors began to where he has finished speaks to America as a nation and to us as individuals. We as Americans should take pride that we have broken down another barrier. As individuals, we should take note of Obama’s personal journey, his personal self confidence, his personal work to transform a dream into reality, and apply it immediately to our lives. If his journey inspires one of us to dream with more confidence, to be better at home, in the office, in social settings or dare I say, inspires one of us to seek public office, then an element of success has already been achieved.

One final note. One final lesson; regardless of whether Mr. Obama succeeds or falls short of his stated goals. Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama saluted each other as they parted company. Such is expected protocol. And then, in an unscripted move, they embraced. I read Michelle Obama’s lips as she hugged Mr. Bush and said, “thank you so much, thank you so much.” There was a palpable affection, appreciation and respect between the 43rd and 44th. Such is not the norm here, there, or anywhere when transition takes place. In a sea of two million observers, there was only a smattering of yelps or boos at the sight of or mention of Mr. Bush’s name.  Those boos were immediately shouted down.

It seems as if yet another barrier has been broken down; tolerance and respect for the opposition.  Now that’s a barrier we could all afford to hurdle.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein.  He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at ds at lawofficesm.com.