“What Makes Obama Run” (c. 1995)

What Makes Obama Run in 1994 by Hank De Zuttern tmay be the first article on political candidate Barack Obama. Some of the praise for the candidate still sounds fresh:

Obama’s work on the south side has won him the friendship and respect of many activists. One of them, Johnnie Owens, left the citywide advocacy group Friends of the Parks to join Obama at the Developing Communities Project. He later replaced Obama as its executive director.

“What I liked about Barack immediately is that he brought a certain level of sophistication and intelligence to community work,” Owens says. “He had a reasonable, focused approach that I hadn’t seen much of. A lot of organizers you meet these days are these self-anointed leaders with this strange, way-out approach and unrealistic, eccentric way of pursuing things from the very beginning. Not Barack. He’s not about calling attention to himself. He’s concerned with the work. It’s as if it’s his mission in life, his calling, to work for social justice.

Obama’s comments on the recently-concluded Million Man March:

“What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African-American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society,” he said. “There was a profound sense that African-American men were ready to make a commitment to bring about change in our communities and lives.

“But what was lacking among march organizers was a positive agenda, a coherent agenda for change. Without this agenda a lot of this energy is going to dissipate. Just as holding hands and singing ‘We shall overcome’ is not going to do it, exhorting youth to have pride in their race, give up drugs and crime, is not going to do it if we can’t find jobs and futures for the 50 percent of black youth who are unemployed, underemployed, and full of bitterness and rage.

De Zutter, the article’s author, went out to co-found Chicago’s Community Media Workshop, which “trains people… to tell their stories to the media…and tries to create better relationships between the media and the diverse communities which make up Chicago and the Midwest.” De Zutter’s place in Chicago journalism continues:

An education writer at the Chicago Daily News in the late 60s, De Zutter was one of a handful of young reporters whose response to the dailies’ timid coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention was to found the Chicago Journalism Review and call them to account. CJR was the inspiration for similar journals soon launched in cities across the country.


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