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Finding New Pride In America

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Finding New Pride In America

Finding New Pride In America

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We've been talking about politics at home and abroad, and that causes us to think about just what politics and government are all about. The recent election in the U.S. has reminded many of us that elections are about more than just the government. Elections can transform our lives, and in some cases, challenge our beliefs about our nation, our fellow citizens, even ourselves.

That's the subject of our This I Believe essay today. It was sent to us by Michael Gabby. He's an elementary school social studies teacher in San Diego, California. Here with more is our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison. Hi, Jay.

JAY ALLISON: Hi, Michel. In the almost four years we've been working on This I Believe, people have written in about their fundamental beliefs being altered by historic events like 9/11, the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and a few weeks ago, the election of Barack Obama. The day after the election, Michael Gabby sat in his classroom and wrote about the change in his conviction. Here he is with his essay for This I Believe.

Mr. MICHAEL GABBY: I believe in the American people. I'm writing this on November 5th, 2008. Yesterday I wouldn't have made this statement. As the election cycle progressed this year, I supported Barack Obama. I put up my yard signs and I made my small, online contributions to the campaign, but in my heart I couldn't bring myself to truly believe, "Yes We Can."

As a 38-year-old, I missed the overt and institutional racism which would have outlawed my interracial marriage. And while we've come a long way, I'd never have dared to dream I would live to see a black man elected president. I could be part of the changing tide, but I was resigned to the reality that changes like this take a long time. As Martin Luther King said, I might not get there with you.

I have been guilty of perpetuating the American myth that children can be anything they want if they just try hard enough, but the presidential pictures in social studies books clearly show the reality. My brown-skinned children surely don't match the presidential pictures. And names like Maya, Malik and Marcus don't sound presidential.

In family discussions of black history, my children discovered that being any shade of brown in America has always meant being excluded from things as profound as freedom or as simple as drinking water from a public fountain. When reading picture books about the civil rights movement my children have asked, even me, Daddy? Even you, baby.

And then it happened. Barack Hussein Obama was elected as president of the United States. My wife and I wept. The first lady will look like my wife. Brown children like mine will play on the White House lawn. We woke up our sleeping children to share the moment and to toast a new day. I was able to say to them confidently now that this is America, where they can be anything that they put their minds to. It's not just rhetoric anymore. The proof was on the TV screen right in front of them.

Michelle Obama was heavily criticized for her comments about being really proud to be an American for the first time. Perhaps these words from a person in her position weren't prudent, but I understand where she's coming from. A day after the election, I am more proud to be an American than at any other point in my life. I believe in my fellow Americans who went into confidential voter booths and made the decision to vote on the content of a man's character over the color of his skin. I underestimated the American people. I was wrong.

ALLISON: Michael Gabby, with his essay for This I Believe. Michel, Gabby told us that he has friends and colleagues who, although they didn't vote for Obama, still felt a fundamental shift in their beliefs about this country. We hope that Tell Me More listeners will take us up on our standing invitation to submit their essays to our series. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison. Back to you, Michel.

MARTIN: Thank you, Jay. You can find information about writing for the series and all the essays we've aired on the This I Believe page of npr.org. Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the "This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

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