It All Depends on You

06 Nov Columnist
Do You Need Obama to Believe?
by Larry Elder

“Does Obama’s victory, as a black man, make you feel that you can do anything?” Someone asked me that on election night.

It is a caricature of America that, pre-Obama, major obstacles blocked achievement. It is equally a caricature that Obama’s win suddenly creates opportunity that did not exist before.

Hard work wins, my dad always told me. My Republican father, who disdained Democrats who “give people something for nothing,” taught my brothers and me to work hard, stay focused, live within our means, and at all times avoid self-pity. My mom and dad always said, “Ninety percent of the people don’t care about your problems. And the 10 percent are glad it’s you.”

Born in Athens, Ga., and eventually raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., my dad never knew his biological father. The only father figure in his life was harsh, distant and cold. His mother, because he made “too much noise” for her then-boyfriend, threw him out of the house at age 13.

So this penniless boy, living in the Jim Crow South as the Great Depression loomed, started knocking on doors. He finally got a job running errands and tending the yard for a white family. One day, the family’s cook failed to show up. But my dad, having watched her in the kitchen, whipped up a passable meal. The family let the other helper go, and a cook was born.

Seeking more money, my dad applied for and got a job on the railroads as a Pullman porter — then the country’s largest private employer of blacks. He traveled all over the country, making a mental note of California because, he says, its beauty and warm weather seemed open and inviting, and the people seemed more fair.

World War II broke out. My dad enlisted as a Marine. He served as a cook and became a sergeant. The military ultimately stationed him on Guam as we prepared to invade the islands of Japan, an invasion that never took place because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My dad returned to Chattanooga, where he went to an employment office. The lady at the desk told him he walked through the wrong door, directed him back out to the hall, and told him to enter through the “colored only” door.

“That’s it,” he angrily told my mom, whom he had just married. “I’m going to California, and in a few days, I will send for you.”

My father arrived in Los Angeles and went from restaurant to restaurant to find work. “Sorry,” he was told, “you have no references.” “Sorry, you have no credentials.” “Sorry …” He, of course, knew why.

He went to an employment office. The woman said, “We have no openings.” My dad said, “I’ll sit until you do.” He sat in that office from opening until closing for a day and a half. Finally, the woman called him to the desk and said: “I have a job. It’s for a janitor. Do you want it?”

My dad worked at that job for nearly 10 years, while working a second full-time job for nearly as long and cooking for a white family on the weekends. He somehow managed to go to night school to get his GED and save enough money, while in his 40s, to start a small cafe near downtown Los Angeles.

He ran the cafe, which provided my brothers and me weekend and summer jobs, until he was in his 80s. One day, my dad and I decided to clean out the garage. We found a letter he wrote to my older brother, then 2 years old. My dad said he feared that if something happened to him, my brother would need guidance:

May 4, 1951 Dad is now 93 and, thankfully, still with us.

Kirk, my Son, you are now starting out in life — a life that Mother and I cannot live for you.

So as you journey through life, remember it’s yours, so make it a good one. Always try to cheer up the other fellow.

Learn to think straight, analyze things, be sure you have all the facts before concluding, and always (SET ITAL) spend (END ITAL) less than you earn.

Make friends, work hard, and play hard. Most important of all remember this — the best of friends wear out if you use them.

This may sound silly, Son, but no matter where you are on the 29th of September (Kirk’s birthday), see that Mother gets a little gift, if possible, along with a big kiss and a broad smile.

When you are out on your own, listen and take advice but do your own thinking and concluding, set up a reasonable goal, then be determined to reach it. You can and will, it’s up to you, Son.

Your Father,

Randolph Elder


So, yes, Obama’s historic victory makes a statement about the long, hard, bloody journey. Obama makes people believe. Some of us always did.


Tags: ,

7 responses to “It All Depends on You

  1. rochester_veteran

    November 6, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Great article by Larry Elder! It really does depend on each of us to have the drive to make it on our own. For sure, we may get a break or a recommendation from somebody that helps us to get a better job, but it’s through our hard work and perseverance that brings us success in life.

  2. Phillip Hounshell

    November 6, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    It is with great pleasure and a true hint of ethnic pride that I watch as it was announced that Barack Obama would be the 44th president of the US.

    I realize, as he stated, that this isn’t the mountain top but the valley and we now have an upward climb to demonstrate and prove that not only has America progressed in it’s willingness to receive a man based on His Character but America is READY to move forward as a world power.

    We have had many setbacks and this presidential race has brought the ethnicity race card to the forefront and in the end we as a nation have squashed the Ideal that it’s all about black and white

    Now the Church has to step up it’s game plan. What is it that we ‘The Evangelical Church in America” must do to maximize the momentum?

    Also, What must we as an African American people do to enlighten, strengthen and promote the virtues and values that allowed a man of Obama’s Caliber to scratch and climb and find His way to the top?

    The future of America isn’t in Obama’s hands (though Obama will play a major role in it). It’s in the hands of the people that voted for change. It’s in the hands of the people that will come along side the spoken vision and cause it to become a reality. It’s in the hands of the people who are willing to make the immediate sacrifices necessary in order to create a better U.S. and world for ourselves but more importantly for our children and grandchildren.

    God is a great God and I believe that this man has been placed in the position that he is in for “Such a Time as This”. I pray for his humility, boldness, and Judgment. I pray that He relies on God for direction and will be as the young Solomon stating :

    Lord – I am young and inexperienced. You’ve placed your servant in an awesome position but I’m not feeling as if I have what it takes to lead this – so great a people. Therefore, grant to YOUR SERVANT an understanding heart that he may know the difference between Good and Evil. I’ll add – And grant your servant a greater degree of humility and commitment that all the days of His life he’ll walk in your status and seek to please you above man.

    The progress of the man, Barack Obama, should cause those that have relied on the crutch of racism to re-evaluate their own spirit of determination, perserverance and work ethics and step up their game.

    In the end- with God on our side, ‘YES – WE CAN’. We can excel, we can heal, we can be and do great things and we can be a people, a nation and a world that progresses above and beyond what the natural mind can think ask or imagine.

  3. BASP

    November 8, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    MLK in his I Have a Dream speech stated that he had been to the mountain top. Even though he had that mountain top experience he wanted to let us know that he saw great things in the future for America, especially people of color.

    I cried, shouted and jumped for joy when Obama a man of color was elected in a land slide victory as our 44th president of the U.S. This was an event that I am glad to have witness. I do not need Obama to believe in my future, my father and mother were my role models. This is why all my sisters and brothers including myself have graduate degrees and are productive citizens. I believe that Obama will have a great influence on other people of color that did not have hope or believed that institutional racism would always keep them down. I believe there will be a chain reaction and this will not be the last person of color to become the president of the U.S.

    It is good to see that we went from slaves and house servants in the White House to actually having a highly qualified person of color as our executive chief of the U.S. that will be residing in the white house.

    This is what MLK, Nat Turner, Federick Souglass, and many more fought and died for. Equal and civl rights for all American citizens not just the elite rich population that wanted power and control of our government.

    I grew up in the south in Savannah, GA. Even though I never experience racism in this city, I found out that it existed in our public schools, which wre segregated in the the 1970s. I remembered MLK marching down West Broad Street and the crowds of people that had hope in what he stood for. I did visit family members in SC and NC, and remebered seeing signs for white and colored facilities. I was told that two of my uncles were killed during the Civil Rights movements. I remember my parents talking about people in small towns being beaten or killed because they tried to vote in the 1970s. I remembered my father talking about the segregation he experienced in the armed services. I definitely remembered my parents saying that their children will never experience this.

    My family were all democrats and I do know that the voting rights or party affiliations prior to the 1970s did not include people of color, these rights were for white Americans only. They were democrats and republicans and people of color were not allowed to belong to either party.

    My father served in the Korean War as a weapons specialist for 11 years, he was also a prisoner of war. After returning to the U.S. he earned an Associate Degree. My seven sisters and brothers were taught that an education was the most important thing that a person of color can posess. I earn a BS degree in African/Afro American Studies, an ASS degree in Business Administration, a BS degree in Elementary Education and I am currently finishing up a Masters of Education. I worked many years for corporate American, but currently teach elementary education. I want my four sons to have the same dream about America and know that they can achieve what was once denied them. Yes, Obama can be a role model for my son that want to earn a degree in law. Could this be one of our furure presidents. Yes it can!

    To God be the glory we are in the process of seeing the true promise land for all Americans.


  4. Rev. Tommy Davis, DDCS

    November 9, 2008 at 2:34 am

    The same folks who were broke before he took office will be broke when he leaves because they haven’t learned anything —-particularly, how to responsibly generate wealth for themselves. I don’t need constant handouts from the Democrats. If so, I would be better off in slavery. I have more respect for a sharecropper who understands that he is an asset. He could go anywhere and plant food. He would starve the Democrat upon exit.

    Banished from remembrance was the fact that the Democratic Party fought to keep blacks in slavery and in 1894 overturned the civil rights laws of the 1860’s that had been passed by Republicans, after the Republicans also amended the Constitution to grant blacks freedom, citizenship and the right to vote.

    Forgotten was the fact that it was the Republicans who started the HBCU’s and the NAACP to stop the Democrats from lynching blacks. Into the dust bin of history was tossed the
    fact that it was the Republicans led by Republican Senator Everett Dirksen who pushed to pass the civil rights laws in 1957, 1960, 1964, 1965 and 1968.

    Removed from memory are the facts that it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who sent troops to Arkansas to desegregate schools, established the Civil Rights Commission in 1958, and appointed Chief Justice Early Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court which resulted in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ending school segregation.

    I am a Republican because of what I stand for. Not for what they can do for me. They did enough.

  5. Lynne

    November 8, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Thank you Mr. Elder, for your service, hard work, sacrifices and of course, your greatest accomplishments, Kirk, Larry and their sister. May God bless you and keep you always, sir.

  6. CKelly

    November 8, 2009 at 2:24 am

    What an awesome testimony!! Your family embraced all the values that mine did.

  7. Dr. Loretta Gilmore

    January 21, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Great article! Of course, I know your story, Larry, you influenced me several years ago. We both came over the Republican Party together. I listened to you every weekday on KABC 790 AM, miss you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: