Obama as role model for black youth? Not so fast

Other News Materials 17 November 2008 19:25 (UTC +04:00)

The election of the first black president in U.S. history should send a powerful signal to young black Americans: If Barack Obama made it, so can you.

But some African Americans living in inner city Atlanta said that while Obama is a role model his life appeared so far removed from their own struggles that it was difficult to see how they could use it to spur their own success, reported Reuters.

Others said that even something as momentous as Obama's election would not make it easy to acquire the self-belief that they needed to move forward.

"If Barack has made it into office there is no excuse to say that America is racist because he has proved that you can do something," said Lebron Cook, 22, who registered for the first time to vote for Obama on November 4.

Cook said he wanted to be a successful rapper and admired Jay-Z because he had made a transition from music stardom to corporate power. As an alternative Cook said he would also like to train as a pharmacist.

His dreams, though, looked tough to attain. After leaving school, Cook became homeless for several months and worked in what he described as a series of dead-end, low-paying jobs.

His father and other family members were in an out of jail and he is staying at a relative's home in the Bankhead neighborhood of Atlanta, where he said other young people sold drugs for a living.

"Drugs are everywhere," he said, adding that he lived on about $20 a week.

Cook's story typifies the obstacles faced by many young African Americans in inner cities. Poor schools, families that are often in disarray, drugs and violence impede success.

More than 20 percent of all black men born from 1965 through 1969 served time in prison by the time they reached their early 30s, said a study published in the American Sociological Association journal in 2006.

That figure soared for young blacks who had not been to college. By comparison, less than 3 percent of white men born in the same time period had been to jail, said the study.

"The only way that he (Obama) can make a substantial change is if he addresses things like poverty and joblessness and those deep pervasive factors that affect black boys and men," said film maker Byron Hurt.

Hurt's latest film, "Barack and Curtis", is a 10-minute documentary released on the internet that compares the image projected by Obama with the image of Curtis Jackson, who is better known as the rapper 50 Cent.

The movie argues that Obama's image, as an educated, family man is a stark contrast with that of 50 Cent, who made an album called "The Massacre" and is famous in part for having been shot nine times in a gang-related incident.