Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I am blessed to be standing in the city where my own extraordinary journey of service began. You know, just a few miles from here, down in the Southside, in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant, it was there that I learned what it takes to make change happen.

I was a young organizer then. In fact, there are some folks here who I organized with. A young organizer intent on fighting joblessness and poverty on the Southside, and I still remember one of the very first meetings I put together.

We had worked on it for days. We had made phone calls, we had knocked on doors, we had put out flyers. But on that night, nobody showed up. Our volunteers, who had worked so hard, felt so defeated, they wanted to quit. And to be honest, so did I.

But at that moment, I happened to look outside and I saw some young boys tossing stones at a boarded-up apartment building across the street.

They were like the boys in so many cities across the country. Little boys, but without prospects, without guidance, without hope for the future.

And I turned to the volunteers and I asked them, “Before you quit, before you give up, I want you to answer one question. What will happen to those boys if we don’t stand up for them?”

(APPLAUSE)

And those volunteers, they looked out that window and they saw those boys and they decided that night to keep going, to keep organizing, keep fighting for better schools, fighting for better jobs, fighting for better health care, and I did, too.

And slowly, but surely, in the weeks and months to come, the community began to change.

You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. It will not be resolved on even a super-duper Tuesday.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

(APPLAUSE)

We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have so little, who’ve been told that they cannot have what they dreamed, that they cannot be what they imagine.

Yes, they can. We are the hope of the father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake with doubt that tells him he cannot give his children the same opportunities that someone gave him.

Yes, he can.

We are the hope of the woman who hears that her city will not be rebuilt, that she cannot somehow claim the life that was swept away in a terrible storm.

Yes, she can.

We are the hope of the future, the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided, that we cannot come together, that we cannot remake this world as it should be.

We know that we have seen something happen over the last several weeks, over the past several months. We know that what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored, that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, make this time different than all the rest.

(APPLAUSE)

Yes, we can. Let’s go to work. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

Thank you, Chicago. Let’s go get to work. I love you.

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