“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope.”

A Tales of Two Cities-Charles Dickens

In the spring of 1996, I was working as an independent contractor and behavior counselor at Kenwood Health Care Center on 63rd and Kenwood. I was always proud but wishful that the consciousness of blacks on the South Side would someday be as visual and prideful for those on the West Side. I recall coming home with something I had seen that I could not get out of my mind. Or rather, I did not want to forget.

I had been walking around 53rd Street and Harper when something caught my eye. It was several buses filled with elders (our national treasures I call them). They were being directed into a theater on Harper. They were all aglow and seemed anxious to greet this clean-cut, well-dressed young man who took his time to not only shake each one of their hands, but allowed them to take as much time as they needed to hear their concerns, hopes or to just casually talk.

It was clear he had a great respect for the elders. This young man had rented the entire theater out just for them. He also catered their entire lunch so they could enjoy films from a better place in time, awakening old, cherished memories and allowing them to have a wonderful outing. I was impressed. I walked all the way over to just see who this man was. His smile was genuine and refreshing. His concern for them was as if each one was his very own grandparent. I would never forget his name: Barack Obama.

I have a little ritual I’ve been doing for years with our young people I’ve had the honor of working with as a mentor at Westside Alternative High School. When one of the young women or young men would bring their children up to the school, I would ask them to “Let me see your child.” They would reply, “We’ll, here he goes again. Do your thing Mr. Brown.”

You see, this was something you might wonder about if you did not know of me. I would kneel down and look in the child’s face, as the young parent would ask what I was looking for, I would reply: “I was just looking for Dr. King, Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth or W.E.B Dubois. I’m even looking for Christ.” The young parents would just light up and have the most wonderful smiles. I was letting them know that, with their children, I looked for greatness in them and our future. I said all of that just to tell you this: I had been looking in the faces of our children for greatness and did not know I had looked in the face of a man who would someday become the first black president of the United States.

What’s the moral? We as African-American men still can make a difference with our children, community, nation and our own city if we don’t give up on HOPE.

A door to the Gateway

Rickie Brown is a lead organizer with The Gateway, a renovation project for the Austin community. For more information about the project or meeting times call 773-308-8636 or visit www.rpbconsultinginc.com.