CHICAGO — You couldn't find a single copy of the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times on newsstands or in boxes anywhere in the city, from Hyde Park up to Evanston. And at least two tricked-out cars on shiny rims that rolled slowly down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood on the city's gritty South Side were blasting what appeared to be the city's new unofficial hip-hop presidential anthem: Young Jeezy's "My President Is Black."
Chicago was proud of its native son and president-elect, Senator Barack Obama, but more than that, some of its citizens felt like they woke up in a world that had undergone a transformation in the wake of Tuesday night's historic victory over Republican Senator John McCain.
Walking down a trash-strewn street in Bronzeville on Wednesday afternoon (November 5) with his black hoodie pulled down low, almost obscuring his eyes, Darnell Mullins, 19, said he watched with joy last night as Obama became the nation's first black president. "It seems like things are changing already," he said. "I feel like we got a chance now, with a black man as president. We got somebody in there now who's not only going to think about himself, but is going to think about us too."
Just weeks after the murders of Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew in neighboring Englewood put a harsh spotlight on the violence that has plagued the area for decades, Mullins said he hoped Obama's presidency could bring about much-needed change. "We have to wait and see, that's what we hoping for."
Further south, on the campus of the University of Chicago in Obama's neighborhood of Hyde Park, Stanley Williams had a bright look in his eye when he spoke of Obama's win. Born in Ghana, Africa, the 19-year-old student who moved to the United States six years ago was, like many of his peers, studying Tuesday night, but he listened to the Obama speech on the radio and felt like the victory achieved even more than some supporters might have wished for.
"It eliminated that excuse that there's not that much opportunity for people like me in this country," he said. "It proved that there is opportunity here and that you can actually achieve something if you fight for it and are vigilant enough." Like a lot of people, Williams said he woke up with a sense that the country had somehow changed overnight, but his first question was, "OK, now what?"
The sense of pride in the neighborhood was palpable, with reports of fireworks going off after the speech, horns honking, music blaring and students going out into the streets to celebrate and voice their support for a candidate who owed a large part of his victory to the enthusiasm, support and volunteer work of an army of young voters.
Cecilia Miller, 28, a longtime resident of the South Side, said she could tell a difference from the moment the sun came up Wednesday, with people seeming to hold their heads up a bit higher in her neighborhood, despite the ongoing problems in the area, which she realizes won't go away overnight.
Coming from another part of the country where urban poverty and strife is endemic, Detroit native Misha Stallworth, 20, a psychology major at the university, sprinted downtown to the Obama rally in Grant Park after it was clear Tuesday night that the Illinois senator would have enough electoral votes to win the White House. "For so long, living here, it's like everything is so black and white so often," she said. "And to know that people can actually be colorblind ... I'm just so happy."
Not able to put her finger on it, Stallworth said she awoke Wednesday with a feeling that something had shifted, but it was hard to pin down exactly what it was. "I definitely felt that change happened without me noticing, until this," she said. "I definitely felt that maybe I was overlooking something and shouldn't have been as skeptical."
Sitting on the patio at Las Mananitas Mexican restaurant in Chicago's predominantly gay Boystown neighborhood on the North Side of the city, Danyel Duncan, 28, admitted to still being a bit worn out from the party in Grant Park the night before. "It feels like there's hope," she said, holding up a copy of the local free daily newspaper Red Eye, which featured a full-page image of Obama waving to the crowd with the word "history" across the top.
"For a lot of Americans, we were losing hope in what democracy actually was and what our country as a whole was, or was becoming," she said. "Now, a lot of people have a new sense of patriotism, and it is true: You can do anything you want to do no matter who you are in this country." While the victory of the hometown hero was a source of pride, given the passage of Proposition 8 in California to ban gay marriage, Duncan's friend Megan Eimerman was less sure that the pioneering win by Obama would pave the way for great gay rights in the country — or possibly a homosexual president in our lifetime.
"That would be amazing, but we might have to wait until we're 106, like the woman in Georgia," Eimerman, 26, said, referring to Ann Nixon Cooper, the woman mentioned by Obama in his victory speech, who had gone from not having the right as a woman and a black person to vote to casting a ballot for Obama in her century-plus of life. "If I do, if I'm able to vote for someone when I'm 106 ... if there is someone who happens to be gay, straight, bisexual ... it would be an honor to vote for that."
And the operative word as the sun came up on Wednesday for Eimerman, as it was for Obama for more than 21 months of campaigning, was a simple one: "Hope."
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