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Commentary: A Sense of Renewal

By Kevin Gaughan


Buffalo, NY – America has turned page. It begins more than another chapter. It opens a new volume in which our nation's vision of itself will be enlarged and ennobled. I remember watching television on the warm spring evening last June when Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee for president, I realized that there was only one place to be at that uniquely American moment. And it wasn't the living room of my Buffalo home.

I hopped in my car, crossed Main Street that for too long has divided our city, and drove to the east side. In the quiet darkness, I sat for a few moments in Jessie Clipper Park, a small parcel at Michigan and William streets that honors all African-American military members, and bears the name of the first black man to perish in World War I.

From there I walked to the former Ticor Title Building in downtown Buffalo, where, in February 1861, Abraham Lincoln attended services at the then Unitarian Church just weeks before becoming president.

Then I drove over to the Michigan Street Baptist Church, a stop along history's most daring expression of human freedom, the underground railroad, and where on several occasions Frederick Douglass spoke. It's said that of all the abolitionist groups in 19th century America, the Michigan Street Baptist Church congregation was among the most organized and committed.

Next I visited the east side gate to Forest Lawn Cemetery, where Mary Talbert is buried. Founder of the Niagara Movement, the predecessor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Talbert began organized civil rights efforts in America. She was a fierce advocate for impoverished African-Americans, and successfully demanded that Buffalo's 1901 Pan American Exhibition include an exhibit on black culture.

Finally, I ended up at the Mandela Market at the corner of Jefferson and Ferry, where brightly colored posters of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King greet shoppers. As the proprietor and I marveled at Obama's achievement, a mother and her young son came in to pick up a few items. I asked the woman if she'd heard that Obama had become the nominee.

Without missing a beat, she turned to her son, braced him with both her arms, and exclaimed, "You see, I told you that you can grow up to be president of the United States." Then she hugged the boy close, and beamed.

The year 2008 was a prelude to change, around the world, across our country, and here in Western New York. In sight now are a new focus on international friendships, new standards for national behavior, and new approaches to local governance.

As Barack Obama breathes new life into our nation - and somewhere, Lincoln smiles, King prays, Douglass exalts, and Talbert sheds tears of joy - let us vow to renew ourselves, and help our community find its place in the better America we are about to become.

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