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Obama a shining light for us, too: Canadian reaction

5 November 2008 at 23:57 | 1452 views

Lynn Jones couldn’t hide her excitement.

Jones and about 250 other Barack Obama supporters in Nova Scotia erupted into cheers early Wednesday when the senator from Illinois was declared the first black president in the U.S.

The group of black Nova Scotians celebrated in a room at the Halifax Metro Centre. It’s a historic moment for us, too, many said, as black people in other Canadian cities also expressed joy at Obama’s victory.

"All the different issues that Barack talked about for the United States of America, we’re really hoping that that translates into an agenda for Canada," said Jones.

Jones hopes Obama’s win forces leaders in Canada to address some of the problems facing black Canadians, such as high unemployment and imprisonment rates.

Daurene Lewis agrees with Jones that Canada needs a phenomenon like Obama.

Lewis made history of her own in 1984 when she was elected mayor of Annapolis Royal and became the first black woman elected to the position anywhere in Canada.

"It also is very reflective or very indicative of why we had such low turnout in Canada," Lewis said. "There was nothing new, there was no change, no one was coming up with anything that was new and different."

’This is going to effect change not only in America, but the world.’

"The fact that it’s happened in a country like America, I think, is going to broadcast to people around the world that anything is possible in this world," said Trevor London.

Michael Embaie, head of the African Community Association of Calgary, said Obama’s win makes him the most important mentor in the world for all people of African descent.

Voter turnout in Canada for the Oct. 14 federal election dropped to about 59 per cent.

In the U.S., however, it appears Americans voted in record numbers for their 44th president.

Preliminary projections suggest nearly 10 million more Americans voted than in 2004, or about 64 per cent of eligible voters. That could be the best turnout rate since 1964.

There will be plenty of time to analyze this historic moment. But for now, Jones just wants to celebrate.

"It’s a celebration of change," she said. "It’s a celebration of just imagining that things would be different."

In the Yukon, some Democrats living in Whitehorse held a house party in the city’s Riverdale area to watch the results on television.

"It’s a huge night, because I carry with me the hopes and aspirations of many people in my life who would be thrilled if they were still alive to see this," said Elenore Velarde, 71, a former Californian who campaigned for Obama by telephone from Whitehorse.

"I think it’s sending a really great message to the rest of the world that we have the ability to look at ourselves and change something," said Katrina Brogdon, who chairs the Whitehorse chapter of Democrats Abroad.

In Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood, more than 500 people jammed a popular restaurant for a cross-border gathering hosted by Democrats Abroad Canada.

"Being black, it means a lot," Eric Williams, a Canadian resident whose parents are from New York, said of Obama’s win.

"I don’t think I can sum it up in words. It’s especially important for my parents’ generation, for civil rights. To see this in their lifetime is the most amazing thing," Williams said.

People wrapped their arms around cardboard cutouts of Obama and children wearing Obama T-shirts darted around a room festooned in red, white and blue.

"This is a moment in history," said Judy Keeler, waving an American flag, and sporting a star-spangled headband and matching necklace. "This is going to effect change not only in America, but the world."

Keeler, a writer originally from New York but who has spent most of her life in Toronto, said Canadians should see Obama as an example.

"He is the American dream. He is the personification of it. This man doesn’t come from wealth. He has worked hard all his life, and to see a black person and his wife and family in the White House is amazing."

About 100 people were gathered at the Imani Family Full Gospel Church in Montreal when Obama’s victory was finally declared.

Tears soaked the cheeks of Obama supporters as they sang and danced in the aisles. Many clasped their hands together and prayed, while others hugged each other tightly to share the historic moment.

"Never in my wildest imagination would I have expected something like this to happen in my lifetime," said 74-year-old Lawrence Edwards, a Montrealer of Caribbean descent who migrated to Canada in 1961.

"It was a very different time. And there was a sign on the building outside in 1961, in this country. No dogs, no students, no niggers. Right here in Montreal."

Edwards says his brother got so angry that he took down the sign and broke it over his knee.

"This is a momentous occasion."

People also gathered at friends’ homes and in bars across Montreal, to watch as voters elected the first African-American president in U.S. history.

Tarik Chelali, a political science student at McGill said, "I love him, I love him. I love Barack Obama. I really do."

Chelali said he had no interest in last month’s Canadian election, but he took a four-hour bus ride to New Hampshire to help encourage people to vote.

"With Barack Obama, I want to get involved," says Chelali, "I wanna become American."

Obama fever also hit 18-year-olds Deshyia Willis and Megan Roy.

"As a black person, it just feels like you’re a part of it. Even though I’m in Canada, like, I’m a part of it," said Roy.

"Everything he does affects us," said Willis, "Anyone who gets in there affects us. It means I could do anything. I could be the black female prime minister of Canada."

In Winnipeg, Obama supporters flocked to Phase II Cabaret, a Caribbean bar in the West End, to watch history unfold.

"A black president is the best thing for the U.S.," said Byron Cooke, the bar’s owner. "The U.S. is one of the most powerful nations in the world and Barack is going to be their king."

In Vancouver, a group calling itself Canadians for Obama jammed into the Yaletown Brewery to watch the returns roll in.

Group co-founder Ajay Puri said he called about 1,000 Americans during the last three days of the campaign, urging them to get out and vote. One woman he reached in Las Vegas asked him, "’My God, now are you guys voting in our election?’"

"Obama’s got a lot of people expecting a lot from him," said Chuck Wootten, also a member of Puri’s group.

"But I think there will be some generational change, and I hope he does clean up Washington and get rid of some of the corruption currently there."

Photo: Canadians celebrate the Obama victory.