Scenes from a State Dinner
For our first date, I took my wife to see the jazz master Kurt Elling sing at the Green Mill, a club on the north side of Chicago. Last night, we saw Elling sing again, this time at the White House State Dinner, given in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. For a pair of middle-class Chicagoans who hail from India and who went to a 30-person Obama event when he was considered a long shot in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Illinois, it was the perfect ending to a magical evening.
For all the glitter (I spent the whole night spotting people I generally see on TV, and observing to my increasingly agitated wife, 'Wow, he's short in real life'), the most memorable part of the evening was walking into the White House with General Colin Powell and Alma Powell.
Alma is the Chair of America's Promise, one of the nation's leading youth empowerment groups. She talked about their goal of dramatically cutting the dropout rate over the next ten years. She was impressive on the analytics of the issue, but I was more struck by her deep conviction that all young people can make a powerful and positive contribution to our society - if we can get our institutions up to the task of nurturing them in that direction.
I thanked General Powell for his statement last fall criticizing the hateful 'Obama is a Muslim' whisper campaign, and affirming that America is a country where a seven year old Muslim kid should dream of being President. I told him that American Muslims are still talking about that statement, and asked what inspired him to make it.
He said that it was the combination of his respect for the brave Muslim soldiers serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, his discomfort at the venom in the voices of those attacking Obama's middle name and Muslim grandfather, and his staunch belief in America as a place where people from all religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds can dream and achieve.
He interrupted our conversation to return the salute of a Marine, standing at the entrance of the White House. "It is a great honor to meet you, General," the young man said.
"Thank you for your service, son," Powell replied.
For me, it was the most important moment of the evening.
November 25, 2009; 10:54 AM ET
Religion & Leadership
Religion & Politics
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