At 50-years-old, Donald Jones became a convert. But don't expect to see him joining a new parish anytime soon. Jones is a political convert. Though he was initially skeptical of the mass appeal swirling around Illinois senator and Democratic presidential nominee hopeful, Barack Obama, Jones soon changed his mind. Seeing the charismatic senator speak in Washington Square Park in Manhattan last year invoked an image of the late John F. Kennedy, Jones recalled. Jones found the senator to be “extremely inspiring and have a refreshing, progressive approach.”
From that point on, Jones slowly changed his opinion of the other Democratic hopeful, New York senator, Hilary Clinton, and eventually converted entirely to Obama's political discourse. But Donald Jones is not alone. Though many black Americans were not immediately sold on Obama's platform, lately, it seems many have begun to change their attitudes. And such “conversions” may be just the boost Obama needs to cement the Democratic nomination.
Way back last year, when Obama’s face started to appear on every news program, blog and magazine cover, many members of the black community were skeptical about embracing his “human” spin on the presidential candidacy because Obama did not look and sound like traditional black leaders. Whereas those leaders are frequently older, with a civil rights movement resume and black preacher cadence; Obama is young, with the soft voice of an ivy league scholar. In addition, the subconscious post-traumatic fear of black leaders being killed in their political prime made many black voters distance themselves from Obama’s political campaign. Despite these factors, over the past four months, the black community has begun to embrace the Obama campaign more than ever. Whether because of his now infamous speech on race in America or sheer excitement over the possibility of a black presidential candidate, black Democrats are rapidly moving away from the Clinton campaign.
“Every where I went, people were putting pressure on me to switch [to Obama],” Ohio City Councilman Kevin Conwell said. The councilman, who once endorsed Senator Clinton, felt that because he was a representative of his residents, he had to follow them and switch to Obama. Yet, the pressure from his constituency was not the only factor that forced this super-delegate to switch his endorsement to Obama. Conwell felt Clinton's campaign had become unethical and was beginning to mimic the same allegedly misleading jargon so often associated with the current Bush administration.
Numbers might be increasing, however not every black voter has been so quick to convert to Barack Obama’s political appeal. Reverend James David Manning from Atlah World Ministries in Harlem says the black community has “no sense of honor to the Clinton's” for their lack of support since the recent Obama state primary winning spree.
Rev. Manning, who is not supporting either of the two Democratic candidates, believes Obama is the “worst possible candidate” because it will cause the black community to see Obama as a false hope of curtailing racism and ending poverty. “There's nothing in our history that indicates having a black politician will make us better,” he barked, “we have not gained anything from having black people in office. It just sets us back.”
Like Pastor Manning, other black politicians are not catching the Obama conversion fever, and many have chosen to endorse Senator Clinton, despite criticisms from their mostly black constituencies. Politicians such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Annette Robinson of New York's 56th Assembly District, are all devout members of the church of Clinton campaign.
Still, some have been Obama supporters even before there was a bandwagon appeal to join the campaign. Long before the 2008 Iowa caucus, Renee Kendall became an Obama convert after reading the senator's best-selling book, “Dreams of my Father.”
“That book depicted his character and his understanding of social and cultural issues that allowed me to feel connected to him,” Kendall said.
The 30-year-old Brooklyn resident believes that since her own endorsement began, she has converted over 19 people--book club members, family, friends and even some strangers on the street--to Obama’s campaign. Kendall believes black voters are joining Obama’s campaign, partially, because “Hillary and Bill [Clinton] have severely damaged their credibility” among the black community. The Obama enthusiast, who wears a “Vote Obama” button as part of her daily outerwear, now sees Obama as the embodiment of the American dream. “His win--and he will win,” she points out, “will represent the dawn of a new era.”