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A historic day for African Americans in Colorado

While I Breathe, I Hope

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In a state whose population is about 4 percent African American, far less than the national average of 12.1 percent, Colorado has elected state Rep. Terrance Carroll and state Sen. Peter C. Groff to lead their respective chambers in the Colorado General Assembly.

Mr. Carroll is the only black member of the Colorado House of Representatives, and Mr. Groff is the only black member of the state Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats. For the first time in Colorado's history and in the United States, both chambers of a state General Assembly will be led by African Americans at the same time. In a year with many historical contexts with the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, Colorado has much to be proud of.

This story causes me to pause and think about the state I love, my home state of South Carolina. This red state has an African-American population of 30 percent, and in it, the Republican Party controls the governor's seat, the General Assembly, both U.S. Senate seats, and the Congressional delegation. Thirty members out of 170 of the South Carolina General Assembly are black — eight senators and 22 house members.

I must note that this year will mark the first time since Reconstruction that a black Republican will serve in the S.C. General Assembly. Rep. Tim Scott (Berkeley and Charleston counties) proves to many blacks that you do not need to be a Democrat to be elected in South Carolina.

One cannot equally compare Colorado politics to Palmetto State politics. But one can ask this question — if Colorado can elect a black Speaker of the House and a black Senate President, can South Carolina one day do the same?

I don't want to answer with a never. After all, for generations that was the response about whether an African American could be elected president of the United States of America. My great-grandmother is 106 years old, and she still can't believe that America has elected an African American — the more qualified and capable candidate — to the office of the presidency. At 27 years old, I believe I would have to live as long as my great-grandmother to see my home state do what Colorado has done.

I am not saying that Colorado is better than South Carolina because two African Americans lead that Rocky Mountain state's two legislative bodies. Nor am I saying that South Carolina is better because we have more minority state legislators. I believe that we must examine ourselves by exploring outside our comfort zone to see if we are reaching our full potential.

Too many in South Carolina and Charleston are content with moving backward by supporting ineffective leadership. When we truly take a leap of faith and believe in each other and what we can actually do, we, too, can make tangible progress.

South Carolina has two mottoes: Dum Spiro Spero, meaning "While I Breathe, I Hope," and Animis Opibusque Parati, meaning "Ready in Soul and Resource." It is in these mottoes that I find comfort in the future of race relations and politics in South Carolina. We must continue to have hope, and we must dig deep within our souls to use our collective resources for something positive and make true headway toward a more perfect union.

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