But more than anything else I heard in the president's inaugural address, I heard a man who believes that our children bind us together."Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm," Obama said. In doing so, he addressed the most pressing issue of our time.
In the wake of the mass shooting that left 20 elementary schoolchildren dead in Newtown, Conn., gun-control advocates have called for more restrictive measures, including an assault weapons ban. Obama responded by proposing up to 19 executive orders targeting guns. The National Rifle Association responded with a campaign-style attack on the president's children. An NRA video released last week pushed for armed guards in every school while simultaneously posing the question, "Are the president's kids more important than yours?" (Malia and Sasha Obama have Secret Service protection.)
From where I stand, the answer is an unequivocal "no," but not for the reasons that would compel someone to attack a man's teenage daughters for political gain. The answer is no because of one small word: hope.
In every child lies the hope that the intractable problems of the past will become the unqualified triumphs of the future. Children represent the hope that the impossibilities of yesterday will become routine accomplishments of tomorrow.
Children are the one investment for which no sacrifice is too great, no goal too lofty, and no pain unbearable. Why? Because children are the physical manifestations of our greatest hopes.
Like hope, children appear from something so small, so seemingly insignificant, that it's invisible to the naked eye. Like hope, children come from a place deep inside us. Like hope, children grow in darkness until they can no longer be denied. And like hope, children outshine the world with a light that won't be extinguished.
That's why I write about my children. They are the greatest part of myself, just as your children are the greatest part of you.
The president showed that he grasps that basic truth when he said yesterday that a child born into poverty should have an equal chance to succeed, not because she's special, but because "she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own."
That's hope - the same kind of hope that compelled King to dream not for himself, but for his children. Most of us miss that in the beautiful imagery of King's dream. Yes, he spoke of our nation living up to the true meaning of its creed that all men are created equal. But King's dream wasn't for men. It was for children.
His children were the hope that the dream represented. Theirs was the future King was trying to shape. Theirs were the lives he wanted to impact. That's why, when he articulated his dream on that hot August day in 1963, he spoke of black and white children joining hands as brothers and sisters. But he also spoke of his own children, and the dream he had for them.
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," King said to the 250,000 who'd gathered in Washington, D.C., to hear him speak.
That, I believe, is the dream of every parent. But dreams are fueled by hope, and so today, as Obama begins a second term, it's my hope that he will do whatever is necessary to make America a better place for his own children, and for mine. It's my hope that he will see the great potential in his own children, and in mine. It's my hope that he will rise above partisan bickering for the sake of his own children, and for mine.
That's the greatest hope a president can fulfill.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. Read his column Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.