Obama, King connection explored at Dominican University

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By ROBERT FELTON

Part I of II
While waiting in line to vote in the 2008 presidential election, Caprice Smalley, principal of the San Miguel School-Gary Comer campus in Austin, took notice of an exchange between a young man in line and a senior.

The young man, about 21, Smalley recalled, was wearing an "Obama for President" sweatshirt. This is a no-no at polling places; wearing any political attire or accessory. He was asked by a polling official to leave the line and return in less partisan attire.

The elder gentleman then immediately began to remove his own buttoned-up shirt and offered it to the man saying, "Take this now, because I would hate to see you not come back."

This incident crystallized the impact of Obama's presidential victory for Smalley, who shared the story at Dominican University's Martin Luther King Jr. panel discussion on Monday. The River Forest college, 7900 W. Division, has commemorated King's Jan. 15, birthday for the last 30 years, even prior to his birthday becoming a national holiday in 1986.

Titled, "Voices of Hope: The Eve of an Inauguration," the panel discussed Barack Obama's inauguration and its connection to King's legacy. Smalley was joined by four other panelists, who shared their thoughts about an Obama administration. The election story was just one parallel between President Obama and King's message of using one's character to overcome racial division, Smalley noted. The Austin principal observed, as did others, King's holiday falling on the eve of Obama's inauguration as the country's 44th president.

Smalley, who met Obama about five years ago, was also struck by the then-state senator's desire to emphasize his status as, "an American first and foremost," rather than as a person of color.

"I hope he continues down that same path of inclusiveness while in office," said Smalley.

Panelist and Dominican University Provost Cheryl Johnson-Odim addressed King's and Obama's organizing skills.

"One of the things [King] always used to say was that he did what he did for the 'beloved community," she said.

"He was very much about community organizing and bringing people together, much in the way that Obama has. Now that is what a community organizer does, Sarah," Johnson-Odim added, referencing Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's mocking of Obama's background during the campaign. "In many ways, the community organizing is the biggest similarity between President Obama and Dr. King. They both knew that anything was possible when people are united in pursuit of a common goal."

Johnson-Odim is hopeful that Obama will continue to stress unity and social change while remaining honest in his public discourse. She also wants to see Obama talk more about providing educational opportunities for underserved students, saying: "I have an enormous amount of faith in his abilities."

Panelist and Dominican student Elena Maans would like to see Obama address energy conservation and the environment as president.

"Every day, one family uses 60 gallons of water. Every year, we dispose of one ton of trash. The future perception of our generation will largely depend on the legacy we leave, and the movement of our generation is undoubtedly an ecological one," said the sophomore and U.S. history major, who also supports green technology and horticulture.

"I feel that president Obama," Maans added, "can make a huge impact on the advancement of green technology and pushing our country forward to a more environmentally-friendly age."

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