Gerald Richards
Gerald Richards is the CEO of 826 National, a national network of creative writing and after-school tutoring centers for underserved youth. He is a native of Harlem and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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REASON 38: I am voting to re-elect Barack Obama because of what he represents to the children of color in this country.

As a young Black man growing up in Harlem in the '70s and '80s, my grandmother and mother understood how important it was for me to receive an education and earn a college degree. Harlem in those days was not a place for a pudgy, introverted, television-obsessed, bookworm like myself, and education was the way out—a way out of poverty, and for a young, Black man, a way out of possible death. While many of my peers were getting caught up in the crack epidemic, I was going to school and hitting the books. Fear of my grandmother’s surprisingly strong backhand usually had me rooted to the couch reading or writing.

All the while, these two women continually reassured me, saying, “You can be anything you want to, baby.” In my heart, I believed them, but I know we all understood the truth: I could be anything I wanted, but I could never be President. And, I can say with some certainty that that was the same belief of the majority of my peers—young Black, Latino, and Asian men living in underserved communities in America who had no role models in politics to aspire to be. That changed for a generation of young men and women of color when Barack Obama took office.

The statistics are all there: Just 41 percent of Black males in the United States graduate from high school, and only 22 percent of Black men who begin at a four year college graduate in six years. The opportunity bus has left young people of color, especially young men, behind for decades. I wasn’t one of them and a lot of factors went into making sure I wasn’t. Many young people may understand they need to have an education but have trouble seeing why. Until now.

Now, the game has changed. Now, young men and women of color can say, “There is a man that looks like me, that has struggled like me, running our country. He went to school, he stayed in school, and he went to college.” My hope is that they are thinking, “If he can be President, maybe I can too. Maybe I’ll study a little more. Maybe I’ll pay attention in this class. This year, I will graduate.” I believe it’s what is happening because I see something on the faces of young men and women in schools and nonprofits across this country. When they see the President, I see excitement and determination on their faces. I see hope.

I am voting to re-elect Barack Obama because of what he represents to the children of color in this country, especially the young Black men in America. President Barack Obama proves that education is valuable, and that knowledge does bring power. All of us, regardless of race or circumstance, can be what we want. Education is the key.

I just wish my grandmother and mother were alive to see it. They’d both say, “Told you so. Now go write a book.”

Gerald Richards
 San Francisco, California

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