On August 15, 2012, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story entitled, “What Does Obama Really Believe In” by Paul Tough. The Cover art for the magazine read “Obama Vs. Poverty” and the article explored the “birthplace of Obama the politician” (Tough 2012) with the intent of revisiting the neighborhood that Obama worked in as a community organizer in South Chicago now that he has served a term as president. Apparently, it was in Roseland that Obama came to the conclusion that he could not effectively fight the poverty he was working in as a community organizer. It was his experience there that led him to pursue law school and politics.
In light of our class discussion on the best ways to serve, this article explores the personal conflict and choices that arose for one person—the President. The major conflict that has come up for me (and many others, I assume… like the President) is one of scale and effectiveness: if I feel as though I must serve the community I wish on a personal level, like Obama The Community Organizer, will I make a profound impact of any kind in the long term? On the other hand, if I pursue my own social capital through additional degrees and higher power positions, will I lose touch with that community or compromise my values? The article’s tag line gets to the core of this issue:
“Twenty-five years ago a young community organizer in a Chicago neighborhood called Roseland decided that what the poor needed was a advocate with real power… He became the most powerful person on the planet. What happened to Roseland?” (Tough 2012).
The article constructively criticizes Obama’s performance when it has come to issues of welfare and poverty, highlighting his successful efforts and the areas he has neglected to address. In the end, it is impossible to argue that one service position is simultaneously the most meaningful and the most effective, but Obama has arguably experienced the spectrum of social service jobs, and therefore, his path may help illuminate some of our questions regarding service.