On Monday, July 25, the first day of the Democratic National Convention, things were not looking so bright for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Let me set the stage…supporters of Democratic rival Bernie Sanders were refusing to accept Clinton as the nominee, they continually rained down boos at the mere mention of her name. Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was heckled by her home state delegation, forced to resign, and give up the convention gavel; hundreds of protestors flooded the streets of Philadelphia; there were constant disruptions on the convention floor – they even booed during the opening prayer. Not exactly the digital imagery the Democratic Party was hoping to broadcast around the world. Facing sure chaos as network cameras brought the convention into the homes of an estimated 25.9 million Americans, the Democratic Convention needed help and 36 African Americans, stepped up to the podium and answered the call.
It was Senator Corey Booker, D-NJ, who began the tide-turning night, telling Americans that “We will Rise,” a take on the soul-stirring words of the late Poet Laureate Maya Angelou. And yes, he did recite for the nation excerpts from the Angelou poem, “Still I Rise” – “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” The blue signs on the convention floor that said Hillary magically turned green with the words ‘Rise Together’.
On a summer night in the city of Brotherly Love, against the backdrop of summer heat and rain storms, Booker reminded all Americans of our true calling saying, “We are called to be a nation of love. Love knows that every American has worth and value, no matter what their background, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Love recognizes that we need each other, that we as a nation are better together, that when we are divided, we are weak, we decline, yet when we are united, we are strong – invincible.”
Senator Cory Booker, rising star in the Democratic party, taught the nation what liberty for all looks like saying, “Escaped slaves, knowing that liberty is not secure for some until it’s secure for all, sometimes hungry, often hunted, in dark woods and deep swamps, they looked up to the North Star and said with a determined whisper, America, we will rise.” And in what was just one drop the mic moment, Booker affirmed what is a familiar mantra on the Clinton campaign trail – “Love always trumps hate.”
Then it was time for the smack down heard around the world as First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage. Mrs. Obama, the self-described Mom-in-Chief, Harvard trained lawyer startled the world with these words that she and her family had the extraordinary privilege of waking up “every morning in a house that was built by slaves…and I watch my daughters – two beautiful, intelligent, black young women-playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Most African Americans knew and have recounted this fact for years but it seems that this was breaking news for many Americans. The poignancy of these words centered on the juxtaposition created in our minds by Mrs. Obama of two young African American girls romping happily with their dogs on the lawn of the most famous house in the world built by Negro laborers, enslaved and free, who could have never imagined that one day, an African American family would live there.
With hundreds of purple ‘Michelle’ signs gracing the convention floor, the First Lady of the United States of America taught her daughters and us how to handle the bigots and bullies of the world, “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.” It was Mrs. Obama who in her endorsement of former Secretary Clinton reminding us that grace in defeat always wins saying “And when she [Clinton] didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home because Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own disappointment.”
While the First Lady never mentioned Donald Trump by name, she brilliantly captured the grace and temperament needed as President saying we need “Somebody who knows this job and takes it seriously. Somebody who understands that the issues of our nation are not black or white. It cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well informed.”
Echoing the night’s theme, Mrs. Obama said, “I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters. And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other. No – we listen to each other. We lean on each other because we are always stronger together.” Mrs. Obama simply said we have to knock on every door, that we have to vote. And with that Mrs. Obama, the first African American First Lady of the United States left the stage, and figuratively dropped the mic to thunderous applause.
And in his last address to the DNC as President, Barack Obama, master orator, brought home his continuing message of hope and resiliency. He joked about his greying hair, how his wife Michelle hadn’t aged a day. He reminisced about the past eight years, telling the nation, “I am even more optimistic about the future of America.” As President Obama spoke, shouts of four more years could be heard. And the man of the hour and honor said, “I can say with confidence that there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America. Not me, not Bill.”
Obama was unrelenting in his scathing critique of Donald Trump saying, “I promise you our strength, our greatness does not depend on Donald Trump. America’s never been about what one person says he’ll do for us.” With this speech, President Obama turned the birther foolishness touted by Trump on its head saying, “Anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail.”
In his final moments before the DNC faithful (of the 4,766 delegates, 1,182 were African American men and women) his presidency embodied all that is right with the world – “The American dream is something no wall will ever contain and democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”