Urban poor send message to Obama

African-Americans from a deprived area of Washington DC speak out.

    Many African-Americans were desperate for an Obama victory [GALLO/GETTY]

    If Barack Obama ever requires a reminder of the hopes African-Americans have for their first president, he does not need to look far from the White House.

    The Washington DC suburb of Anacostia is only a few miles from Obama's presidential residence, but it is a world apart.

    The area suffers from endemic poverty and high crime rates. Many buildings are abandoned and there are few shops.

    But when Al Jazeera visited the area there was only one word on everyone's lips: "Obama".

    And that has left expectations high following the Illinois senator's historic victory.

    'Stimulus plan'

    Ted Pringle is a director at Bread For The City, an NGO based in Anacostia that provides 2,500 of the areas poorest families with food, clothing and other aid.

    Ted Pringle is hoping for a new
    stimulus plan
    "I was overwhelmed when I heard the news that Obama had been elected and to be honest, it still hasn't sunk in," Pringle says.

    There is massive optimism in Anacostia about Obama's presidency, but there is also the feeling that there are urgent matters that need his attention.

    "We need Obama to fix the economy. Gas prices are rising and food prices are outrageous," he says standing amid stacks of tins and bags filled with bread.

    "I just got a phone call from guy who needs 10 bucks to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving but he can't afford it."

    "We need some assistance. We need an economic stimulus plan for our communities."

    But the question remains as to where those funds would come from amid financial turmoil, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and high energy costs.

    "We need to tax the rich more, that would help," says Pringle.

    Some residents believe that Obama's background and experience as community activist in deprived parts of Chicago should help him understand their concerns.

    "His family are from a such a desperately poor country so he knows about poverty and he knows what it's like to have nothing," he said.

    History of struggle

    Anacostia, which is about 99 per cent African-American, has also played a part in the history of the community's struggle against racism and discrimination.

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    Frederick Douglass, the former slave who escaped and became a leading campaigner against slavery in the 19th century, lived in Anacostia and his former home there is now a museum.

    And many people are keenly aware of the historic significance of the Illinois senator's victory.

    "I actually started crying when I heard the news," says Renee Wilson, a student.

    "It's like 'we can do this', people of African origin can do this."

    Danielle Rayside, a trainee chef, echoes her views.

    "It really is a monumental thing for us as black people," she says.

    "The whole family seems to have a real positive aura about them. Michelle Obama, who will be the first black first-lady, is educated and well-spoken."

    There is also the feeling that Obama will provide a role model and a symbol of African-American achievement.

    Historic achievement

    "When I left school there was a feeling that all I could only go into was being a home-help or maintenance work, or something medical - not a real career," she said.

    "My daughter was born when George Bush came to power in 2000, but now I feel she may have a chance for something better."

    But residents also say that while Obama's historic achievement is a major step forward for the African-American community, their struggle is far from over.

    "This is not the end of African-Americans' struggle - it's actually the beginning.

    "You are still going to have racism and racist people," she said.

    ""People are going to take a second look at us and see what we can do - I love it."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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