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Obama changes tone of politics among blacks.

Byline: Tony Castro, Staff Writer

PACOIMA - President Barack Obama wasn't at a candidates' forum for the March 3 election sponsored by local black leaders, but his politics resonated loud and clear in the rhetoric of many of the hopefuls seeking elected office.

The upshot, say organizers, is that in the age of Obama, African-American politics is less about angry messages from outsiders and more about upbeat affirmations that change is possible.

"A lot of people are talking from a position of hope and acting like they know there is some power in numbers and in being a larger part of the community," said activist Morris Pichon of a Thursday forum in the San Fernando Valley's black community.

Although the evening forum drew only a few candidates for city, school district and college district posts, sponsors said it was important because it focused attention on issues important to African-Americans.

The Pacoima Community Center forum, organized by the Pacoima-based Leader- to-Leader African American Community Empowerment Think Tank, also had a different feel than other black political events.

"I've come here to serve," said businessman and engineer Art Sims, a candidate for seat No. 2 on the Los Angeles Community College District board. "I'm not a career politician. I'm a public servant."

The new posture of inclusiveness, say activists and experts, can be traced to Obama and his successful bid for the nation's top elected post.

Pichon, who was an Obama delegate to last summer's Democratic National Convention, said the new president has been an inspiration not only to young people but also to older African-Americans.

"He's inspired a lot of people to get off their dusty butts and to try to participate," said Pichon.

It is all part of a generational change among African-Americans, according to experts on black leadership such as Charles Henry, a professor of African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

They point to recent studies and opinion polls finding that the youngest African-Americans are most opposed to affirmative action, most likely to blame blacks for their own shortcomings and most likely to have positive feelings toward whites.

"This is a generation that grew up outside the black churches or the civil rights community," Henry said.

Typifying the message offered by the Obama-age African-American politicians may have been Greg Akili, a candidate for seat No. 6 on the community college district board, whose literature includes a photograph of the new president.

"I promise to spread President Obama's message of hope and change to the (college) district and to every level of public service," said Akili, who served as a regional field director in Obama's campaign.

"I will bring power back from the state to the local board."
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 21, 2009
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