President Barack Obama's swift rise from the Illinois State Senate to the White House is emblematic of African American political progress. But these strides have been in the works long before the election of the first Black president. In fact, the number of African Americans leading legislative bodies has significantly increased since the days of the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign; going from 401 in 1986, to 628 in 2009.
Clearly there is a new school of Black politicos ready to usher in an era of African-American political influence and accountability. Perhaps no other politician represents this fresh, young political leadership better than Bakari Sellers, the youngest and arguably one of the most prolific Black state legislators in the country.
Bakari Sellers was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly in 2006, at the age of 22. He was also an early supporter and a key proponent of the Obama presidential campaign. Despite his age, Sellers had a clear yet humble explanation for his political ambition.
"Simple answer: If not me then who? And if not now, then when?"
Like many young professionals, Sellers had his eye on politics long before Obama set his sights on the White House. Yet he believes it was the country's attitude adjustment on race that was the impetus for more Black politicians being elected.
"I believe that the increase in African-American elected officials can be attributed to the progress we have made as a country in dealing with issues such as race."
If anyone can speak to the leaps and bounds that the United States has made in dealing with race relations, it's Bakari Sellers. He is the son of civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers Jr.; the only person convicted and jailed for the events surrounding the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, a civil rights protest that resulted in the death of three students at the hands of South Carolina state troopers.
In many respects, Sellers feels he lives a legacy that breaks the stigma of our history of oppression. Although he recognizes the growth that we've made as a nation, he still accepts that we have changes to make.
"The irony is apparent that in the state where President Obama was defeated by 9 percent, resides the youngest African-American state legislator. As a country and as a state in particular, we have made progress but nevertheless we still have yet a ways to go."
This same message of progress is often related to the success of President Obama, the man to whom Sellers is often compared. A quick Google search with the young legislator’s name plus the word “president” brings up a whole host of Web sites and blogs predicting that Sellers could be the next Black commander-in-chief. He is a leader in a new class of young Black politicians that carry a heavy burden, with constituents looking to them to fix their failing economies and to essentially be like Obama.
As he continues to break racial barriers in the South Carolina legislature and beyond, Sellers remains ambitious.
"My goals again are relatively simple, representing a very poor and rural district. I want to ensure all South Carolinians access to a first-class education and ensure access to quality health care.”
Sellers’ fervent desire to serve the people of his community, his humble recognition of the history that he's made and his wish to represent the little man, make it difficult not to conjure up the image of Obama. If his ambition and focus at such a young age are any indication of what he'll do in the future, then the world may well soon see the name Bakari Sellers on a national ballot.