Obama/Defender ties long-established, endured

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Like so many influential African Americans who preceded him, President-elect Barack Obama, understood the value of using the Defender as a platform to foster interest and discussion on matters critical to the community.

Like so many influential African Americans who preceded him, President-elect Barack Obama, understood the value of using the Defender as a platform to foster interest and discussion on matters critical to the community.

Obama did that before his first Illinois State Senate race in 1999, with the help of former Defender reporter Beverly A. Reed.

Reed, who was working as a community activist prior to joining the paper, heard the then- aspiring senator discussing “the importance of people organizing in their own community to create change for their neighborhood.”

“I was really impressed with him that he struck me as someone who was so committed to serving the people, but also that he was such an intelligent person who could choose to be on Wall Street or in Washington, but at that time he thought it was most important to be in the community,” Reed said. It was shortly after that she was hired as a reporter and columnist for the paper.

Reed then brought the young Obama to a meeting with the Defender’s publisher, Col. Eugene Scott. “I was so convinced that Sen. Obama was someone extremely important to the community I set up a meeting for he and Col Scott and …Col Scott saw the same thing in Sen. Obama.”

The candidate’s knowledge and passion for community issues prompted the paper to do an eight-part series on the issues he said needed to be addressed immediately in Springfield, including earned income credit, Englewood beautification and heating and energy assistance for low income residents.

Reed noted Obama’s impact hadn’t waned several years later when the Defender did a series at the start of the millennium.

“One of the parts of that series was “Vanguards for Change,” she said, adding that Obama was picked as one of the people who would lead the African American community in the 21st century.

“I think the Defender was definitely in front of the curve. We were certainly beacons of light for Sen. Obama’s message and we provided a way for the African American community to get to know him and get to know that he was who he said he was.”

The Obama-Defender ties remained strong, as the Chicago Defender Charities named him Man of the Year in 2003, more than 12 months before the Democratic National Committee keynote speech that projected him to a national audience.

Obama also has been the Grand Marshal for the Charities’ Bud Billiken Parade and was the newspaper’s Newsmaker of the Year in 2007. His wife, Michelle, was named Newsmaker of the Year this year.

Reed said she would like to recite the same poem she wrote for Obama’s inauguration that she recited when he was running for the U.S. Senate.

“Barack embodies the spirit of change. He is the messenger, but it is up to us all to embrace change in our own lives,” she said.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. 

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