What Obama Really Symbolizes

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 19, 2008
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The LeBlanc family: Joshua, Akira, Lemuel and Christopher

Akira LeBlanc took her two boys to see Barack Obama last July. As all will remember, the Democratic Party’s then presumptive presidential nominee took some pre-convention time to vacation in the Islands of his birth, watch his two girls play on the beach and visit his ailing grandmother.

Well-heeled Hawaii Democrats got a chance to attend an expensive Obama fundraiser. The rest of us were allowed entry to a short Keehi Lagoon appearance by the candidate. That’s where Kira took her two handsome sons, 12-year-old Christopher and 10-year-old Joshua.

Christopher is an eighth-grader at Wheeler Middle School, Joshua a fifth-grader at Solomon Elementary. “I took the boys out of school to go see him,” Kira says. “I knew that Obama had already achieved so much, and I felt in my spirit that he was going to make it to the presidency.”

At the Keehi Lagoon event Kira and her boys were approached by one of the local stations for an interview. She proudly shared the Internet video of it with her relatives back in Houston, and with her classmates and professors at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu.

“All of our family were so thrilled,” she says. “They kept saying, ‘You got to see Obama. You got to see Obama. You’re in his hometown.’”


Obama’s achievement means a lot to Kira, her husband Lemuel and their two boys. They are African-Americans, originally from New Orleans, who were forced to relocate to Houston after Hurricane Katrina.

A barber by trade, Lemuel joined the United States Army two years ago. A few weeks into the fall semester, Kira came to school puffy-eyed. The day before, she had seen Specialist Lemuel LeBlanc off for his first deployment in Iraq.

So Kira watched the last weeks of the presidential campaign with her two boys. “My husband and I have followed Obama’s campaign very closely,” she says.

“It was an integral part of our daily conversation - at breakfast, dinner, over the phone between Honolulu and Iraq. We’d never been so in touch with anything political before. His candidacy drew us in. We became much more emotionally involved.”

On general election day, Kira couldn’t take time to watch the returns. She was writing a class paper upstairs in the family’s Army housing.

“We were alone,” she says. “We have no family here. I assigned the boys to stay downstairs in front of the television and bring me a state-by-state report. So whenever they called a state for Obama, Chris or Joshua charged up the stairs to tell me.

“Then, when they called the election for Obama, we had a three-person party - screamin’, cryin’, laughin’.

“I was so thrilled, obviously, being an African-American woman. His election alone changes the country, it changes the country’s dynamic. It opens up possibilities for Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, women. It brings balance to the society, access. It’s such an achievement. We’ve come so far.”

Kira LeBlanc, talking about it a week after the election, still grows emotional. “It’s just wonderful,” she says.

The day after the election was a Wednesday - teacher meeting day, so by 2 p.m. Kira had fetched her boys from school and brought them to her college campus. When she saw one of her more politically inclined professors, she screamed with joy, ran to him, laughed: “Obama did it. He did it.”

Professor and student exulted for a while, then Kira reached over and placed her hand on her fifth-grader’s shoulder. “The only problem with Obama’s election,” she said, “is that Joshua wanted to be the first African-American president.”

Maybe he can be the third or fourth. In the meantime, Joshua’s proud African-American father, the de facto barber of his communications unit in Iraq, aspires to cut his Commander-in-Chief’s hair one day.

Why not? The possibilities of anything - for Kira and her men, for all of us - grew immeasurably greater these past few weeks.

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