Students React to Obama's Historic Nomination The students at Howard University Middle School in Washington are predominantly African-American. Andrea Seabrook talks with students and teachers there about what Barack Obama's candidacy means to them.

Students React to Obama's Historic Nomination

Students React to Obama's Historic Nomination

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The students at Howard University Middle School in Washington are predominantly African-American. Andrea Seabrook talks with students and teachers there about what Barack Obama's candidacy means to them.


And so now America will have its first-ever black presidential nominee. It's an extraordinary political moment, but more important it's an historic milestone. And that's well understood at Howard University Middle School here in Washington. Yesterday was graduation day.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: More than 100 kids, mostly African-Americans, decked in blue caps and gown march in single file. They followed three drummers into the auditorium and to their seats. These students are about to graduate eighth grade.

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SEABROOK: Howard University is one of the nation's oldest historically black colleges. It established this charter middle school to give urban black children an education focused on math and science. Of course, they also study English, social studies, civics and this year especially, politics.

Talk to these young students and their teachers and you find that for them the political is personal. They don't think the candidacy of Barack Obama is about superdelegates or swing states or strategy. It's about who he is. Kenneth Caesar teaches at Howard Middle School.

Mr. KENNETH CAESAR (Teacher, Howard Middle School): Now as a teacher, you know, I'm happy to say, look at Barack Obama. Look what he is accomplishing and you have the opportunity to accomplish it.

SEABROOK: This is always part of the mission of teachers: to motivate kids, tell them you can grow up to be whatever you want to be. Now, minority students, like Takiyah Jones, are getting that message not only from their teachers but from Barack Obama.

Ms. TAKIYAH JONES (Student, Howard Middle School): When I speak about him, I just get bubbly because he's just so excellent about what he talks about. He hits every single point. He has it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Does he mean something to you personally? It sounds like it.

Ms. JONES: Yes. Because when little children, they've always said, oh, I want to be president but I can't be it probably because there's never been. But when you look at Obama, and he has done so much, not just for African-American children, it's for any kind of race of a child. Because they can think now I'm Latina and I can be president. I can be whatever I want to be; not because of my race, just because of my views.

SEABROOK: Takiyah's classmates say similar things. But don't think these kids are blind worshipers of the altar of Obama. Josh Christian does like him a lot but the 14-year-old was disappointed in Obama's decision to leave the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Mr. JOSH CHRISTIAN (Student, Howard Middle School): I can't believe he withdraw from the church 'cause he should have stayed on there. I really brought a lot of people down. Because if you believe in something you should fight for it.

SEABROOK: Then again, criticisms of Barack Obama are the exception here. The sense at Howard Middle School is that Obama's candidacy is making a difference.

Social Studies teacher Kimberly Worthy has observed a change in her students. She says she first noticed it after Christmas vacation.

Ms. KIMBERLY WORTHY (Social Studies Teacher, Howard Middle School): After that I saw my students' homework submissions increase tremendously. And then I showed one of Barack's videos - Yes We Can - where all the students from, I think it was a school in the Bronx, wrote speeches. And after I showed that all of my students wanted to write a speech entitled "Yes We Can." And, you know…

SEABROOK: Don't cry. You're tearing up.

Ms. WORTHY: It was really moving for me to hear students who don't typically do well in school speak of, you know, different things that they know that they can do because of what Barack Obama has shown them.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RYAN MICHELLE MATTHEWS (Valedictorian, Class of 2008, Howard Middle School): Class of 2008…

SEABROOK: At yesterday's eighth grade graduation, Ryan Michelle Matthews was the valedictorian. She gave the traditional speech. She spoke of class pride, optimism, challenges in the future, and there was something different in this year's speech.

Ms. MATTHEWS: Like Barack Obama, the first African-American Democratic presidential candidate…

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. MATTHEWS: …we too are making history.

SEABROOK: She's not yet in ninth grade by Matthews already knows how to work a surefire applause line into her speeches. That kid's got a future, maybe a future in politics.

Ms. MATTHEWS: (Unintelligible) class of 2008, we did it. We have achieved greatness. Congratulations and good luck.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

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SEABROOK: Coming up, an expert on presidential debates plays consultant to the debaters.

Mr. ALAN SCHROEDER (Debate Historian): If I were consulting for the McCain campaign, I would really stress his sense of humor. I think that that's one of the things, one of the assets the he has that he brings to the table. With Barack Obama, I think what they probably will try to do is figure out a way for him to sort of rattle John McCain a little bit and hope that they can bring out that side of his temper.

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SEABROOK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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