On Thursday the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama will visit McKinley High School, known to many in the black community as the “Big Blue”. I don’t have the bragging rights to say I attended McKinley, though my mother, father, grandmother, aunts and uncles ALL attended McKinley, I graduated from the other “panther,” Glen Oaks High. As an African-American in Baton Rouge, there are few people who are from this city, who are not directly connected to the school in one way or another – be it a cousin or close friend, we all know someone who went to McKinley.
McKinley High was also the first public school for African-Americans in Baton Rouge. The significance of the first African-American president, coming to Baton Rouge’s first African-American public school is tremendous.
When the announcement of his visit came, it was immediately clear that President Obama sees an opportunity to make headway in helping Louisiana progress on his way out, with the election of a democrat as governor. Our state has been hostile territory for the president under now FORMER governor Bobby Jindal, someone who did as little as possible to help the progress of African-Americans while elected.
President Obama on his trip to Baton Rouge, will get to ride through old south Baton Rouge. An area that has always been predominately African-American. He will possibly ride down Thomas Delpit Blvd, and see the buildings that were once thriving black businesses that are no more. He will see the homes of citizens who work sometimes two jobs to attempt to get ahead. President Obama will see what has not progressed under the years of Jindal. He will see an area for opportunity as a nation.
For many African-Americans who stood in line over night outside the McKinley alumni center, braving cold temperatures to wait in line for a ticket to see the president, this is a once in a life time experience. People stood in line to wait for tickets and there were no incidents, no police reports, just citizens who want to see their president.
Some say, “Why McKinley?” Why not? You see, I didn’t have to attend McKinley to appreciate what it represents in our community. The list of schools to choose from were Tara High School, Baton Rouge High, and McKinley High. Undoubtedly if the $54 million dollar Lee High was built I’m sure the East Baton Rouge Parish School System would have recommended that facility. The truth is, our school system has invested millions in other schools and I’m sure would have loved to have had the opportunity to show them off. However, you can invest millions in buildings, but money can’t buy history and heritage and that is what McKinley High has to offer this moment.
You see there are countless African-American judges, doctors, lawyers, and business people who graduated from McKinley High. Sure, the same goes for other schools, but let’s face it, Baton Rouge is majority black. The president coming to McKinley gives black people all over the city a reason to stick their chest out.
To have the president stand on the grounds of a school where blacks organized to fight for the right to vote means something. To have him speak to future generations of doctors, lawyers, elected officials, and community leaders, means something. To have President Barack Obama in Baton Rouge, a city that is still battling to progress – a city that still needs to close the income gap between blacks and whites ($39,000 blacks, $90,000 whites) means something.
As inspired as President Obama is to the people around Baton Rouge, I believe that the same city that started the bus boycotts that changed the world, has the ability to inspire the president. To inspire him to fight with zeal for voting rights and civil rights. To inspire him to speak more vocally about the need to develop urban areas of America in a way that helps us all grow as a community regardless of race.
I’ve read the hateful comments from people on social media about his trip, and to those who ignore its significance and try to diminish its potential impact I have no words. Because the same way a young Bill Clinton was inspired the day he met President John F. Kennedy, some kid from “the bottom” in south Baton Rouge may meet President Barack Obama and become inspired. That kid may one day run for president and win, a son or daughter of our city, may be inspired to public service from a few minutes at McKinley.
You see we can say the president should have gone to this place, or that place for our own different reasons. Some say they wish he picked a larger venue. Some say, they wish he picked a nicer school. I say, let’s just rejoice that the cloud is no longer over our state and the potential for progress has come. Let’s hope that he’s informed of some of the needs of our community and uses his resources as president to help us solve some of those issues. While others look for what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve happened, I’m just grateful that it is happening. I’m hopeful that this is a sign that 2016 will be a good year of progress for Baton Rouge. After all, who would’ve guessed that President Barack Obama would choose to come to Baton Rouge, Louisiana two days after his final state of the union address? This is a pretty big deal, and maybe the only time I’ll ever say, “Go Big Blue”.
There is so much good in this moment in history, for Baton Rouge and for black people, I’m just pleased to know it’s happening. May the wheels of progress in the black community move swifter, from the inspiration of the President of the United States of America visiting a historic symbol in the black community in Baton Rouge.