What Obama means for Canada

Since the United States elected its first black president, the words, “Yes, we can” have become iconic throughout the world. America leads the world not only as a superpower, but also as a trendsetter. They may have set the most influential trend yet.

The 2008 presidential election was important for Americans, but it seems that Canada is feeling the overflow of emotions of triumph as well.

In the two months leading up to his inauguration, Barack Obama made appearances and profound speeches about his plans to change the current state of his country. People from all over the world booked hotel rooms at record-breaking prices in Washington and nearby states to witness the historical inauguration.

While several critics were concerned about the gown Michelle Obama would wear to the inaugural balls, students in Canada wondered what this inauguration would mean for them.

Daniella Kyei, president of the Black Students’ Association at the University of Toronto felt it was necessary for her to organize a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. for the members of the association to witness the inauguration on Jan. 20.

“I felt the BSA had to go to D.C. because in order to do the work that we do, we, as black students and future leaders need to be inspired, the inauguration did that,” Daniella said. “To see a successful, non-stereotypical black family in office makes me so proud. It’s something that we can look to for guidance.”

On Jan. 16, about 100 students waited at U of T with luggage and cameras in hand, anticipating their departure to D.C. Some had closely followed his campaign since August; others made the journey solely because of his African-American ancestry.

Melissa Pierre, a student at York University, was pleased that the opportunity presented itself and wasted no time in reserving a seat on the bus to D.C.

“Of course, as Canadians we always have some knowledge of what’s going on with our neighbours to the South, however, this inauguration hits home more than any other in the past,” she says.

Kyei, who grew up in the United States, is constantly reminded of the struggle of blacks in North America.

“Believe it or not, racism still resonates in Canadian society,” the university student said.

Even though Canada is often referred to as a “mosaic,” there are few men and women of colour in senior positions. So many Canadians are looking south for inspiration, and see Obama as the leader for change in the world.

For several other students, making the journey to D.C. was about accepting positive change in a world that is bound by colour and actively seeking to achieve dreams that were once thought to be unattainable.

Barack Obama is the revolutionary leader of hope and steadfast change in America, so here in Canada we are waiting and watching for a cultural revolutionary of our own.