She compares Obama’s election to King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered 40 years ago, on the day before his assassination. Kendra King points out that the children of Israel also wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. “For many in the African-American community in particular, [Obama’s election] is a historic moment, but for many others it is simply unbelievable,” she said. And the post-election future?
“You may see a whole new paradigm in the United States, not just in political terms but also in social terms, in every aspect of life,” she said.
King speaks of President-elect Obama as “a master of unification, hope, and change.” She expects that the Obama administration will reflect the wealth of intellectual, racial, gender, and ideological diversity of the nation, and she pointed to early cabinet appointments as representative of the cross-section of interests Obama has brought together.
“For many in the African-American community in particular, [Obama’s election] is a historic moment, but for many others it is simply unbelievable. You may see a whole new paradigm in the United States, not just in political terms but also in social terms, in every aspect of life.”“Barack Obama is not the second coming of Christ, nor is John McCain the devil incarnate.”
But King the realist knows that the performance of the first African-American president will be measured in dollars and cents. If the economy continues its downward spiral, she said, the midterm election will mirror the recent runoff election in Georgia, in which U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican, defeated Democrat Jim Martin.
“In other words,” King said, “Dems will be defeated—and defeated badly.”
But while she is a realist, King is no cynic. For her, the political, social, and academic are blended and can bring about real and positive change. In fact, while she loves teaching, she’s most inspired by her work as the director of Oglethorpe’s Rich Foundation Urban Leadership Program.
The program folds the liberal arts curriculum into an effort to address actual community problems across Atlanta and, as King puts it, “seeks to enhance the leadership, civic engagement, and fellow goodwill of our students.”
It was a big factor, she says, in her decision to leave the University of Georgia, where she was teaching in 2003.
“In making the decision to leave a research-one institution to teach at a liberal arts institution,” she said, “there clearly had to be a draw, a hope, a passion for something beyond political science.”
That something is a curriculum that involves classroom work on developing leadership skills but also involves outreach and service to the community, including volunteering at city schools and work for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.
Since becoming director, after she received tenure in 2007, King has sought to “develop young leaders who are congruent both publicly and privately and create a program that transforms the thinking, mindsets, and expectations of our future leaders,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“I try to encourage and inspire my students to make a difference in their life,” she said, “and the lives of others.”