“We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”
—President Barack H. Obama, Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 2009
They’ve been called the “children of the dream.” They are the generation of African Americans, born around 1960 or shortly thereafter, old enough to exploit the opportunities made possible by the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but too young to have personally fought in the epic, often costly battles that created those opportunities and breached the barriers that frustrated the aspirations of their forebears.
My peers and I of the civil rights generation have experienced and expressed doubts and anxiety about this post-civil rights generation. We worried that, after all our sacrifices of blood, sweat, life, and limb, our successors might ultimately prove unworthy of the effort, that they’d reject our values and ignore our lessons, forgetful and unappreciative of what it took to position them for what we could scarcely imagine—wealth, power, and success. Conversely, the dream generation, which includes my son and black enterprise CEO Earl Graves Jr., and his colleagues and peers, were often just as frustrated with us, tired of being reminded of the debt they owe to our generation, weary of being told that they have it too easy, take too much for granted, should be doing so much more with the hard-won freedoms and opportunities they enjoy.
Our cry, with a growing sense of alarm: When will the children of the dream be worthy of the mantle of leadership? Their response, with increasing urgency: When will the civil rights generation step aside and pass on that mantle? The answer to both questions: 12:05 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2009, when President Barack Obama took the oath of office and established beyond a shadow of a doubt, for the entire world to see, that his generation, the children of the dream, has come of age and come to power.
President Obama referred to the nation as a whole when he urged us to “set aside childish things,” quoting from 1 Corinthians 13:11 from the Bible. However, this verse also perfectly underscores the fact that a new generation of African Americans has accepted the challenge of leadership, fully prepared to accept the baton carried too long by a generation perhaps reluctant to relinquish it. It is critical to note that this is about more than just one exceptional African American. President Obama is merely the most prominent of his generation, as Dr. King was of mine. Other representatives include Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin (the third black coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl), former NBA star and Sacramento, California, Mayor Kevin Johnson, Ariel Investments L.L.C. President Mellody Hobson, and, indeed, many key members of the Obama administration. These men and women understand that excuses are neither desired nor acceptable. They are living proof that character, honest effort, education, and excellence remain authentically black values— and those values are quintessentially American. These are the values