Black community holds high hopes for Obama

Courtney Potts

Just nine days from Election Day, many members of this Upstate New York black community said they have their fingers crossed for Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his historic campaign for the presidency.

The narrow gap between Obama and Republican candidate John McCain continued to close Sunday, according to the latest Zogby poll. But Obama remained in the lead with 49.4 percent of votes compared to Republican John McCain’s 44.1 percent.

“This is history,” said the Rev. Arthur Gary, associate minister at The House of God church in Utica. “History in the making.

“And this will be something for our younger children to learn: You can be anything you want to be.”

Like Gary, other congregants Sunday at The House of God also said Obama was setting a good example for the community.

Lena Bell, 69, said she never thought she would live long enough to see a black man hold the nation’s highest office. But now it seems like a real possibility.

“I’m very proud of him,” she said of Obama. “He’s very educational and, listening to him speak, I agree with a lot of his points of view. I wouldn’t vote for him just because he’s African American, but I’m very proud of the fact he is African American.”

Bell said her only concern is that a small segment of the population still may be unwilling to accept a black president and that Obama may be in danger if he wins.

“I’m going to be happy, but I’m also going to be cautious and I’m going to be praying for him,” Bell said. “There are a lot of people out there that aren’t going to like him being African American. And I just hope nothing happens to him.”

While some community members remain cautiously optimistic, others, like Ken Bowens, 49, are already confident in an Obama victory. Bowens, who attends St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Utica, said he was sure the Democratic candidate would win this year even before the primaries were held.

“Either way, it was going to be historical,” he said. “It was either going to be a black man or a woman in the presidency.”

Some congregants at St. Paul’s on Sunday could be seen leaving the 11 a.m. service with Obama/Biden campaign signs.

Among them was Dale Hunt, 55. Hunt said she believes the black community has become more unified through the push to register new voters and get everyone out on Nov. 4. Many church members have volunteered to provide transportation to and from the polls, she and other members said.

Personally, she said, she supports Obama for a variety of reasons, especially his economic policies.

“I believe he’s going to help the everyday people,” she said. “He cares about the poor and the middle class and he’s going to provide opportunities for those who never had them before.”

Obama already has inspired many members of the black community, she said. But that effect would be even greater if he’s successful next week.

“If Obama can make it to the White House, they can aspire to the dreams they have in life,” she said. “Obama has proven it can be done with hard work.”