Barack Obama’s story is truly about strength of mind, perseverance, courage and audaciousness. This man – from he was young – was determined to be a success and did all he had to and remains grounded. Barack Obama is truly an inspiration. This man has my respect!
This post was written on Tuesday, November 4
Just across the street is the fire hydrant where young Barack Obama washed up with a homeless gentleman after waking that morning a quarter century ago.
Obama had come to New York as a transfer student at Columbia, having arranged to take over a friend of a friend’s apartment on W. 109th St. He arrived with his luggage just after 10p.m., only for nobody to answer the door.
Obama sat on the building’s stoop, rereading a letter he had received before he left California. The letter was from the father who had long since moved back to Kenya. The father urged him to carry through with plans to visit Africa after his graduation.
“The important thing is that you know your people, and also that you know where you belong,” the long-absent father had written. “Please look after yourself and say hello to your mum.”
Obama refolded the letter and gazed along what was then a row of boarded-up buildings on W. 109th St., keenly feeling the absence of a guiding paternal hand in a country where there seemed no clear place for a young black man.
“I looked down now at the abandoned New York street,” Obama later wrote in his autobiography. “Where were the fathers, the uncles and grandfathers who could help explain this gash in our hearts? Where were the healers who might help us rescue meaning from defeat? They were gone, vanished, swallowed up by time. Only their cloudy images remained.”
He waited past midnight before wiggling through a gate into an alleyway that by his description is almost certainly the one adjacent to 200 W. 109th St.
“I found a dry spot, propped my luggage beneath me and fell asleep, the sound of drums softly shaping my dreams,” he wrote. “I woke up to find a white hen pecking at the garbage near my feet.”
He rose and stepped from the alleyway.
“Across the street, a homeless man was washing himself at an open hydrant and didn’t object when I joined him,” Obama recalled.
Twenty-five years later, the hydrant has been given a cheerful coat of red paint by the Dominican superintendent of the building across from the alleyway.
The alleyway is no longer garbage-strewn but swept clean, the six trash cans kept in a neat row by the Montenegrin super in the adjacent building.
The supers were taking the extra care because that is their nature, just as the once-abandoned buildings along the block now fly American flags as a signal of the neighborhood’s restoration.
Nobody seems to have been aware that the alleyway and the hydrant might become one of the city’s most unlikely historical sights.
Here slept and washed up a future President who propelled himself beyond the soft drumming of his dreams, who appeared before us suddenly and so vividly, showing a young black man’s place is where he strives to be, presenting himself as a healer who can help black and white rescue meaning from defeat.
“It’s a privilege to live in a neighborhood where once a future President has spent the night,” the Montenegrin super, Ruzdija Jarovic, said in his native language.
Happy shouts rang out from the recess yard of Public School 165 just down the block. A whistle sounded and the youngsters filed inside past a bank of voting machines delivered for the election that could have such an impact on their future.
The man who slept in the alley just up W. 109th St. was on every ballot in the country. Obama’s father and mother died long before his nomination. His grandmother died yesterday, a day before she could have seen more than dreams come true.
Maybe the homeless guy who shared the hydrant is still around. The hydrant and the alleyway remain, and to visit there on Election Eve was to feel how audacious hope can really be.
Author: Michael Daly – NY Daily News.