What do Ohioans think of Obama?

“If Obama were elected, it would clearly show the rest of the world that America really is what America is supposed to be about,” said Friedman, a Cleveland civil rights lawyer.

“The election of an African-American candidate who was raised by a single Caucasian mother and whose father is black is a reflection of an America where immigrants can come and really achieve greatness and find evidence that the American dream is not a fantasy.”

Burns, who has headed a community based organization for 30 years, said the skills Obama developed as a community organizer should serve him well if he is elected.

“The fact that you could bring people together, you could get them excited, you could get them to believe that they could make some changes in their own lives and their own community is really what we need in this country,” she said.

As a barrier-breaker from the civil rights era, he finds Obama’s achievement nearly unfathomable, said Rogers, now semi-retired at age 70. “And I feel fortunate, really, because my life has kind of bridged the period of time when it was virtually unreasonable to think such a thing is possible, to the point in time where it’s a reality.”

An Obama presidency would not automatically fix national race relations, says Madison.

“I’ve heard people who say they’d vote for Mickey Mouse before they’d vote for him just because he’s black,” Madison says. “But he’s going to change the attitudes of people towards race.”

“Obama gives you that hope that, wow, I want to vote for this guy, I want to be part of the political process, which has been lost over the past 20-plus years,” says Lykes, 18.

“He has the policies, and he has the plan to back it up, but sometimes it’s almost more important how you present it to people, and to have that inspiration,” Lykes says.

Blackmon, 58, witnessed the scourge of segregation and the progress of the civil rights movement that made Obama’s candidacy possible. One of her brothers was a freedom rider who was arrested in the early 1960s. She sees the upcoming election as an opportunity to reestablish America’s moral authority in the world.

“I am excited for the country to have this experience,” Blackmon said. “I know that there are a lot of people who are worried. But I don’t think we should be afraid to enter the 21st century with a new way of doing things. We should embrace it and not be afraid of it.”

The efforts of suffragists, judges and Civil Rights leaders are some of the pieces of history that most make O’Neill proud to be American. That’s why he is so moved by Obama’s ascendance. He believes that in this moment, the country moves a tiny bit closer to realizing the promise of equal opportunity for all.

“The inspiring thing to me is that somebody like Obama, who comes from a disadvantaged political minority, actually has the chance to become president of this country,” O’Neill says. “It’s as wonderful an endorsement of our constitution, of our country, as I can think of.”

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Obama for President

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