Points of Light Forum Held at Texas A & M

On October 16, 2009,  President Barack Obama co-hosted a Points Of Light forum at Texas A & M University, with former president and Points of Light founder, George H. W. Bush.  President Obama opens the forum with a “howdy” to all the Aggies, to which they gave a resounding “howdy,” in return.  He stated that it was an honor to speak at such an outstanding university and that he understood why former President Bush decided to house his library there.  After about 5 minutes (give or take 15 to 20 secs) of acknowledgments that included names like Barbara Bush, President George H. W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Former Sen. Samuel Nunn, Ambassador Ron Kirk and this list goes on, Obama decided to recite President Bush’s career portfolio.  He highlighted Bush’s career in bullet-point fashion, as if his professional decisions were clean and admirable, full of integrity and selflessness.  If I were a canine, my ears would perk up nice and tall at this point, my head would cock to the side and there would be a piercing look of confusion in my eyes (errr roo?!).  If you cannot speak truthfully about a situation, then why mention it? Could there have been another approach to introducing former President Bush without bringing your own integrity into question? I now sit here, pondering my own question.  I am not accusing President Obama of being dishonest, but I am perplexed.  Maybe the selfishness and still controversial reasoning behind Operation Just Cause (Panamanian  Invasion), the Persian Gulf War and the continued relationships/friendships with purported terrorists (Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden) are still reigning in the backdrop of my mind. I also find it difficult to ignore Bush’s long standing relationship and business dealings with the Bin Laden family that goes as far back as the 70’s, when he and Salem Bin Laden (Osama’s brother) founded Arbusto Oil Company (also  known as Arbusto Energy). Surely these facts are better served in another post, for another time.  However, it is disturbing to listen to President Obama go on and on, about President Bush’s “ethic of service long before it was fashion,” depicting Bush as a proposed egalitarian (equalitarian not elitist) citizen whose life embodied the strengths of ethics and morality.  Now don’t get me wrong, former President Bush (GHWB) has done some good things and The Points of Light Foundation/Institute is, at least on its face, one of those things.

The Points of Light Institute is said to be a an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on encouraging and empowering serviced based thinking and action in our communities around the nation. In 2007, The Points of Light Foundation and the HandsOn Network merged to become the largest volunteer management organization in the nation and became known as what we know today as, The Points of Light Institute.  I must admit, it did warm my heart to hear Bush challenge the nation by making a call for “a thousand points of light”  during his inaugural address. This is a good thing, isn’t it?  Then why am I bothered? My guess is that I am constantly challenged, as I’m sure many of you are, by the incessant mixing of poison into the nutritional meals.  I, for one, am not enjoying the Sybil-like approaches to what seemingly garners the legacy of intentionally paradoxical themes padding the political chair of our presidency and other governmental seats. Perhaps I am off base here and President Obama is simply being the “optimist” he proclaims to be.  In light of this, I must concede to the plausibility that he is collapsing on a higher truth, one that is hard to reach when factors are hazy and typically too convoluted and challenging for most of us to sift through.  Is he really choosing to see the light in the pain? Or is this some framework for decorum that better serves his point of pulling us all in with his story? You know how we love a good story.  Well, our experience and response to that question will be a subjective one and will depend solely on our ability and effort to remain unattached and unbiased in our observations.  Admittedly, this will be a task for me, considering all of what is on the table, but it is my goal.

President Obama’s political prowess is nothing to sneeze at.  Surely this is finesse at its best, but does that element alone disparage the sincerity of his words? Obviously not. Yet, there is a growing population of Obama haters that literally hold his ability to appear more human than most presidents, as a threat.  It is all the proof they need to validate that he is a fraud.  It’s terrifying, for some, to think that someone could hold the position of president and still remain approachable.  Do we want an elitist thinking government or are we just conditioned to the feel of one?  Well, like it or not, charismatic seems to be Obama’s style, a gift that he openly shares every chance he gets and his visit to Texas A & M was no exception. He did not hold back during his Points of Light speech, which has a video duration of about 23 minutes. President Obama gave example after example, in mini story format, of how we can all be of service.  He held the attention of his audience as he elicited movement within their emotional framework by drawing them in, consciously softening his tone of seriousness with an occasional interjection of comic relief, as he reminded us all of our responsibility to be of service.  It was a perfect blend of sweet and sour. Balancing the flavors of thought, he petitioned the savor of some grand idea that we as a nation can be greater than our politics.  Fact or Fiction? You decide!

Once you get past the political red carpet that served as the preface to this thought-provoking speech and any personal blocks that you may have with Bush and, or Obama, there is a real opportunity for contemplation.  Texas A & M’s efforts to be an example of an institution of higher learning that is committed to giving back is definitely something to applaud. It is not uncommon to hear of sororities or fraternities that are engaged in community service, but there hasn’t been much buzz on schools itself doing much, outside of its chapter affiliates, unless integrally tied to some type of sports related association. A & M’s gesture of giving has truly been one without a concern for reciprocity. This was a pleasant surprise. President Obama mentioned that A & M’s students give back in a variety of ways ranging from tutoring children, to building homes, to raising money to fight cancer and aids.  Again, very refreshing. We are privy to so many negatives that it was nice to be reminded that some of us really are doing what counts. Way to go A & M!!!

President Obama’s Speech On The Festival Of Lights (Diwali)

President Barack Obama continues to astound the world with his thoughtful acknowledgments of other cultures during a time that is sacred and meaningful to them.  He has published an official White House video, wishing those who honor Diwali as a time for remembrance (Holiday), a Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak.  In this video, President Obama educates the American people and anyone else who chooses to listen, on the history of Diwali.  He explains that Diwali is a celebration of the Festival of Lights and states that it is a time “when some of the world’s great faiths celebrate  the triumph of good over evil.”  He speaks on behalf of the American people, wishing peace to everyone.  President Obama invites us to move beyond our differences and to look at our humanity, to move past our denominations, religions and cultures, and remember those who are not privileged to worship and speak freely of their own choosing.  He adds that this should be a time for contemplation, acknowledging those who are less fortunate and urges us to join together to make a habit of reaching out to those in need in an effort to advance world peace.

As reported by MSN News, President Obama bows with Hindu Priest Sri Narayanachar Digalakote, after lighting a diya (oil lamp) in commemoration of Diwali, in the East Room on October 14, 2009.

Whether you like  President Obama or not, whether you question the sincerity of this gesture or not, you must admit that his message was a call and an answer to hope and respect. This message was not one that the American government has conveyed so literally and deliberately in the past.  While President Bush was the first American President to introduce Diwali at the White House in 2003, it is my understanding that President Bush was always absent for the festivities and a cabinet member was left to preside over or light the diya in representation of him. More information about Bush’s regard and support of acknowledging Diwali in the US can be found at The Association of Indians in America website. President Obama is the first American president to attend a Diwali celebration and light a diya in full commemoration of the sacred holiday. What is different about Bush’s approach vs. Obama’s regarding Diwali is that Obama allowed us in, he invited the American people to get on board and share in the meaning of Diwali, if we so chose to, as a gesture of cultural movement rather than something that was done as a “technical” check off of his to-do list. This is a significant point to make. Further, he elected this moment, this celebration, as another opportunity to drive home his message of peace, emphasizing the need to build bridges of communication and empathy and not those of ignorance and separation, he encouraged contemplation and not segregation. It was a powerful move on the president’s part and I assure you, the meaning of the American flag represents something greater today, at least for a portion of Jains, Sikhs and Hindus and some Americans as well, than it did before Obama’s speech.  No other President has openly respected and acknowledged other faiths and called them great because there was always a purported belief or a stigmatization that carried a label of dishonor.  The perception was that the honor of some other country, faith, or culture denied or denigrated your own, but that belief is founded on a faulty premise and today President Obama was an example of this truth.

For those of you who did not see the speech, I have embedded it below for your convenience.

What are your feelings and thoughts on this? Let’s talk about it.