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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2008

Obama's example

THERE'S nothing new about the president of the United States being a role model to millions of Americans. It's only natural that the person holding the highest office in the land would inspire citizens by his example.

President-elect Barack Obama has a special responsibility, however, as the nation's first African-American president.

Until a generation ago, the United States was a country that tolerated discrimination as the law of the land. Today, thanks to the civil rights movement, from which Mr. Obama benefited, even the parents of nonwhite children can point to him and say: "With hard work and discipline, that can be you too."

Mr. Obama's ascension to the presidency is particularly important, not to mention inspirational, to African-Americans and, indeed, to all people of color. As a symbol of potential and achievement, his example is relevant to people who have felt distanced from mainstream American life.

A young African-American sees Barack Obama as different from his 43 predecessors. It's impossible to look at the new president and fail to realize the hurdles he had to overcome on the way to the White House.

So when black parents point to Mr. Obama and tell their children that there's no excuse for wallowing in alienation and indifference, they can do it with more authority than ever. Mr. Obama pursued and won the highest office in the land despite millions of naysayers. He, more than anyone, proves that great things can be achieved with discipline, education and a relentless drive to break barriers.

This is a message that many young African-Americans need to hear and heed, recognizing that black males are disproportionately burdened by high unemployment, high incarceration rates, and lack of education.

The election of the first African-American president is a watershed moment for all Americans, but it is particularly significant for those struggling at the bottom of society's ladder. The mantra that propelled the Obama campaign should be invoked by all Americans of color - indeed, by all Americans - "Yes, we can."

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