Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Siegel, Shuster, and Obama

On Thursday, November 6, something happened in a small room at the Cleveland Public Library, Glenville branch, that made me even more excited about politics than I already was last week. Except it wasn't really about politics at all.

Glenville is the neighborhood where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster lived when they created Superman in 1934. At the time, it was predominantly Jewish. Today it is predominantly black and poor.

Earlier that day I had spoken at the main branch, downtown. The audience was mostly young black people. I was expecting the same in Glenville. Instead I was ushered into a room where about 35 or 40 members of the adult community leadership organization were finishing up a meeting. They, too, were almost all black. Some of them were holding Obama signs—two days after the election. The purpose of the signs had switched from tool of persuasion to badge of honor.

I gave my presentation, hoping they would feel pride for the seminal event that had occurred in their neighborhood. They did seem moved by the story, which some had not known before.

Then my friend Tracey Kirksey, head of the Glenville Development Corp. and almost certainly one of the ten kindest people in the world, asked if she could say something. I said of course.

She proceeded to emphasize how Jerry and Joe were underdogs who had a vision and worked hard to see it come to pass. In succeeding, they bucked the odds and made history. Then she unexpectedly compared them to Barack Obama in spontaneous words so eloquent that I wish I had recorded them. The essence was that she felt she could tell her children that they could be president one day
—only now, she finally fully believed it to be true. The others, of course, reacted with jubilation.

Of all the
Boys of Steel experiences I've had since the book came out, this was by far the most profound. I felt so lucky to be in Ohio, in Glenville, for that moment.

1 comment:

Richard said...

That's really lovely.

If you'll indulge me in a tangent, it also reminds me of something else I read and found unexpectedly moving. The current issue of New York magazine has a short item pointing out how Obama's election transforms the landscape for a particular group: underprivileged black kids who are bookish, intellectual, nerdy, or geeky and who are often mocked for "acting like white people." Now that a skinny, wonkish, nerdy man with brown skin who was mocked as a teenager for his love of reading (and who read comics as a boy) has become President, any geeky black kid who gets accused of "trying to be white" can just say "Is Obama white?"

I've done some local events for the Jack Kirby Museum in the Lower East Side neighborhood where Kirby was born, and one of the things we tell kids at these events is "Jack was a poor kid who lived in a tenement a few blocks away from here, and he went on to create Captain America and the Hulk and the Fantastic Four and Darkseid and all these other characters they know all around the world." It's the same message you're delivering about Jerry and Joe -- i.e., the greatness of the human imagination comes from right here, and don't let anyone tell you not to dream -- and I have to admit, that extra added symbolism with Obama gives me a tiny lump in the throat.