Locked-Up Youths Inspired

Claudia Rowe, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 21, 2009

Waiting outside the locked steel doors at King County juvenile detention, Margie Parks watched Barack Obama sworn in as president and thought of her son, one among dozens of black youths incarcerated a few yards away.

She had no way of knowing that her boy, 15, was also watching, along with every other detainee–kids locked up for robbery, assault, drug crimes and homicide–most of them minorities wondering if the ascendance of the nation’s first black president would mean anything to their lives.

{snip}

Portia, 15, was excited mainly by her belief that the new commander in chief will commute drug charges from felony to misdemeanor status, enabling her to get a job and apply for college scholarships. Gary, also 15, thought Obama might be able to do something about the way police deal with young people of color.

{snip}

“The world is changing, and I’m really trying to change ” said Jonathan, 16, a member of the South Side Criminals, a Latino set. “Because this is like my 16th time coming in here, and all the things I’ve been doing outside isn’t doing me no good. I got to grow up, get my GED, a job, a house because I want to live the American dream. That’s what I want.”

{snip}

Lee Davis, a supervisor, was almost speechless after Obama’s address. His great-grandmother had been a slave.

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Social studies teacher Diane Benson plans to dissect the new president’s speech as a vocabulary lesson. In class after Obama had finished his address, she spoke to a group of 27–many of whom consider themselves far more likely to become gang soldiers than constitutional scholars–about inclusion and tolerance.

The new president, she noted, had chosen a conservative minister, the Rev. Rick Warren, to give the invocation, despite their differences on a number of issues. He had worn a bright-red tie, symbolic, she believes, of his reaching out to red, traditionally Republican states.

{snip}

Jonathan, slumped in his county-issued blue jumpsuit, struggling to extricate himself from gang life, nodded quietly.

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