One point that is absolutely clear is that the President of the United States is no political coward.
President Barack H. Obama made history by backing historic health care reform across America when everyone thought that successful political battle would negatively hurt his chances for re-election. But to President Obama’s leadership credit, he put the urgent health needs of the poor and others who had been locked out and priced out of access to health before fulfilling his own political needs.
Now President Obama becomes the first sitting U.S president to publicly and explicitly state without any hesitation that he supports the equal justice and civil rights protection and affirmation of gay rights on the issue of same sex marriage. With a sense of thoughtful introspection and discernment, President Obama stated, “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
On these issues and on other matters in terms of both domestic and international policies, President Obama’s courage is unprecedented. From ending the war in Iraq to supporting women’s rights to equal pay, and to taking a caring position about the murder of Trayvon Martin, Obama has shown his ability and tenacity to stand up, speak out and to take definitive action even in the face of political controversy and social risks. What has emerged and evolved during the last four years is an irrefutable profile in presidential courage and leadership.
Courage is an important attribute that eludes too many politicians as well as other leaders. It has been customary for elected officials to tend to first test the magnitude of the political winds before taking a public position on polarizing issues. That is why I support “Getting Money Out of Politics” in America because too many officials get bought off or priced out of having the courage to do what is right on the issues for freedom, justice and equality for all people.
During the socially and politically dangerous height of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960's, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized, "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” Dr. King was both a religious leader and a civil rights leader.
In 1967 when Dr. King came out publicly against the Vietnam War, there were many even in the Black American church community who stood in opposition to Dr. King’s bold courage. Dr. King was fearless and courageous. Today millions of Americans have benefited from the sacrifices and steadfast commitments made and articulated forty and fifty years ago by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the National Conference of Black Churchmen, the National Council of Negro Women and many other bold tenacious groups who stood up and made a difference not just for Black Americans, but also for all people.
President Barack Obama has emerged out of the civil rights generation’s legacy of courage and leadership. When former President Nelson Mandela in South Africa called for reconciliation in the context of the liberation of South Africa from its brutal history of apartheid and racial oppression, there were many who were in opposition to Mandela’s courageous stand. Thus the standard for courageous leadership is not just an American standard; it is also a global measure of a leader’s determination to be truthful and committed to the principles of equal justice and freedom for all people throughout the world.
The issue of same-sex marriage is a very controversial and even divisive issue within the African American community as well as in other communities in particular among many church leaders and members. But this is exactly why President Obama who comes out of the black church tradition in Chicago at Trinity United Church of Christ should be recognized for the evolution of his convictions and principles of living a life of both faith and politics in his attempt to be true to himself, his family and understanding of God and his unique responsibility as the President of the United States. President Obama further stated, “I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.” Years from now, history will judge that President Obama did the right thing at the right time concerning this issue.
Let’s pray and hope that more officials, leaders, pastors and others in leadership positions will also find the courage to stand for equal justice for all people and to express opposition to social, racial and all other forms of discrimination. Let’s work harder to make the world a better place for all and that time to stand up for what is right and just is now.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr is President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), National Director of Occupy the Dream (OTD), and serves as Senior Strategic Advisor of the Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org