Making a place in history

Published 9:28 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Senator Barack Obama etched out a place in history Tuesday, becoming the first black American to be elected president of the United States.

“It is the most defining moment in American history that we have ever seen,” said Robert E. Stephens, of Chuckatuck, who served as the community/economic development liaison during the Clinton administration. “It’s significant … in that it gives all Americans the opportunity to recognize the strengths and interdependence that we all share.

“I hope it will provide the catalyst for us to move forward and solves the disparities that affect us all.”

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People around the country were on edge Tuesday night, with many voting precincts experiencing record turnouts at the polls. Voters were lined up outside several precincts when polls opened at 6 a.m., with people in some areas waiting for up to four hours to cast their ballots.

About 64 percent of voters, not counting those who cast absentee ballots, came out to vote on Tuesday.

Obama received 1,796,770 votes in Virginia, making it the first time in a generation that state voters threw their support behind a Democratic presidential candidate.

It was a tight race in the Old Dominion. According to the State Board of Elections’ Web site, Sen. John McCain, who was at one time stationed in Hampton Roads, garnered 1,641,443 votes in Virginia.

The race wasn’t as close in Suffolk, where Obama received 55 percent – or 19,123 – votes during Tuesday’s record turnout. McCain got 15,630 Suffolk votes.

While cognizant of the historical importance of Tuesday’s vote, Stephens says he believes it vital for people to think – and act – to bring about change in their communities.

Change, he said, “starts with us as individuals. I am hoping this administration will inspire and build leadership in local communities.”

Stephens said he would like to see people invest the same level of energy and commitment spent volunteering for the Obama campaign in improving their community.

“That’s where the real work has to happen to bring about change,” he said.

Dwight Nixon, a black minister who came in second in the race for Suffolk mayor this year, said Obama has given other blacks something to admire.

“It gives a lot of inspiration and aspirations to other African-Americans,” Nixon said. “I think he’ll do a good job.”

Nixon said he believes part of Obama’s appeal is his ability to reach across multiple barriers to unite people.

“He knows how to reach across the aisle,” he said. “You have to have a strong coalition – independents, Republicans – to try to reach a goal.”

Local community leader W. Ross Boone, a Planning Commission member, admitted he was an undecided voter for quite a while, but ultimately decided to check the box for Obama-Biden.

“When you take a look at what both parties were offering … one could not help but to choose Obama and Biden,” he said. “They complimented each other well.”

Boone said it is now time for America to forget about red states and blue states, as well as differences such as gender, economics and race, and remember we are all Americans.

“It’s about America and its people,” he said. “It’s about Americans and what we have to do.”

Boone acknowledged Obama’s rise through the political ranks was “abrupt,” but said the president-elect has the potential to lead America through the next four years.

“He is not a savior,” Boone said. “He is just a man.”

Hubert Young, who owns a local real estate company, said he appreciates the energy that Obama supporters have brought to the forefront in this election. On Wednesday, during a visit to the barbershop, elections – local and national – were the topic of the day.

Young said several conservatives expressed worries that they would be “taxed to death.”

“People are so upset about the economy,” he said. “I think we have to give the man a chance.”

Young called the enthusiasm of Obama supporters “invigorating … and refreshing.”