LOS ANGELES (NNPA) - Anticipating the new year, African Americans across L.A. say the Obama Age brings an optimism that many have never experienced before.
With unemployment rates skyrocketing, homes being lost in a spiraling housing market and daily cuts to social programs and services, it might seem there is much to fear at the beginning of 2009.
But as they await the swearing-in later this month of President-elect Barack Obama, Black residents of South Los Angeles interviewed this week are more hopeful than concerned about the coming of the new year.
"I don't have any fears," said Terry Bass, who spoke to a reporter while enjoying the weekly Sunday drum circle in Leimert Park. "You just have to do the best you can do, you have to have your agenda together and do whatever it is you do and push forward … I see all the negativity in the papers, and the pessimism out there, and people feed into what they believe and what they hear. So I don't even take a lot of that stuff in. I focus on my agenda and what I'm trying to do."
South L.A. resident Vanessa Taylor agreed: "I don't believe the hype of the media," she said, "I don't believe all the negative talk." Instead, Taylor believes in creating her own destiny and is looking forward to the opportunities that will arise in 2009.
One opportunity, according to Heaven Cisse, is a renewed sense of individual responsibility. "Yes, he [Obama] has a job to do, but I think that everyone has an individual responsibility to make the changes they want," she said. "It starts within your own home, after that within your neighborhood, within your own community, to your own city, and eventually it will get out to the state and then the world on a bigger scale. I think people get it now. With the economy in chaos … It's up to us to seize the moment, take charge and keep going."
For Taylor, "It's not about one man showing up — it's about him raising the bar, us seeing that this can happen and us raising the bar for ourselves. There is no way he can do it himself; if you think that, then we've lost the game."
Those with less optimism concede that the hope generated by political realignment may be completely lost — and soon — if the African American community does not become more conscious in its collective decision-making.
David Flishmen, who works as a security guard for a juvenile detention center and is also a part-time disc jockey, believes that Obama "was put there to do a job, but the system is still the same. With the way the economy [is] and [how] things are going, there's a lot of crime. People really have to get strong and hold onto God no matter what's going on."
Said Robert Jones: "My main fear is that most people are uninformed and they're not responding to [the economic crisis] as they should. People really need to pay attention to what's going on behind the scenes, what the manipulators are doing with the system and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their family."
He added: "If we don't get it together, it's only going to get worse. We have to get it together and be smart and learn how to improvise in this system. The system is not built for us, and we know that so we have to be smarter and do better than what we've been doing. Otherwise, we are going to be in a bad wave and we're already headed there."
Kevin Pennant, a public relations specialist, said he has been affected by the economic crisis firsthand. With many companies in financial jeopardy, several of his clients and potential clients have begun to decline his services.
Watching his own finances dwindle, said Pennant, has humbled him and forced him to become more aware of his own spending habits.
"For me personally, it has been a time for me to reflect on how I'm spending my money and career choices that I've made in the past," Pennant said. "So, I look at it as a time to really reflect and I think everyone's going through that right now, and because of that there's going to be a more positive change in the future. I know it's bad now but it won't be for forever. I mean we are at our worst and I think that we're going to coast at this level until it gets better."
Aspiring musician Troy Manuel, who was also at the Leimert Park drum circle, said he felt "more excited and enthused because we have a new leadership coming in … and I'm more happy for our ancestors that worked so hard to see this day.
"The president [Bush] coming out of office really did a mess with the economy and the world, everything is off course right now … It's going to take a lot of love and communication to take this thing back," he continued. "It's been a long time in the making and [Obama is] very prepared for what he has to do and he's surrounding himself by all the right folks to help him do what he has to do. It's all a part of the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. had envisioned … We are right on time with what's going on right now. It's about togetherness of all mankind."