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Obama Supporter Mobilizes African, Caribbean Communities

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Obama Supporter Mobilizes African, Caribbean Communities

Befekadu Retta is an Ethiopian-born Chicagoan campaigning for Obama. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)

We’ve been reporting on Chicagoans who are deeply invested in the presidential race between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Arizona Senator John McCain. Today, we meet an Ethiopian-born Chicago resident who’s been volunteering for the Obama campaign.

Ethiopian Diamond restaurant boasts the best coffee and food of its kind in Chicago.

It’s also been the site of gatherings for the city’s African and Caribbean population who are supporting Barack Obama.

RETTA: Obama, his case is very unique. But Obama is for the people. Obama, his agenda, his change and his hope that resonates to everybody.

Befekadu Retta has been organizing on behalf of the campaign. He lives in Edgewater and says his young children forget about their cartoons when Obama appears on the television screen.

The Ethiopian native says there may be a feeling a kinship because Obama’s father was Kenyan.

RETTA: Yes, African. First-generation African. But again that doesn’t persuade me as what he’s standing for.

Retta says he evaluates the candidate on the economy, education and support of the African Diaspora.

Retta came to the United States more than 20 years ago as a refugee. He went to Roosevelt University, became a citizen and works for Cook County.

The pull of politics is apparent for him in this historic presidential race. Retta was in Iowa when Obama won the primary and he’s taken his children to Ohio to canvass. When he returned to Iowa a few weeks ago, about a hundred Africans and West Indians went too.

Retta says Obama is an easy pick for those in the African Diaspora. Obama’s plan includes debt relief to poor countries and investing in fighting AIDS.

RETTA: African and Caribbeans have been a victim of poverty, starvation, lack of democracy. Obama, according to his platform that we have seen so far, hopefully he will continue on that and he will give for the other part of the world how people can live together. How they can tackle the poverty, especially HIV that which affects all over the world and especially the Third World. We’re hoping he’ll be able to help and to make sure that the other part of the world are with us to tackle and solve those problems.

Retta says there’s been energy in his community about Obama. But that’s not always the case in American elections. Traditionally, the focus is on political activism in the Old Country.

RETTA: We have our own back home attachments with politics and economy because home is home.

One expert says he’s never seen this level of presidential election interest among the West Indian and African populations in the U.S. They’re contributing and registering voters. Jean-Germain Gros is a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

GROS: We have to be honest about it, it’s race. A lot of people of African descent would very much support Obama because he’s of African descent. But I would think that equally important is this fact: if Obama should become elected, for a lot of people this would provide a kind of inspiration if not to them but to their children.

Gros says there’s an African and Caribbean tradition that at election time artists put out tunes for a particular candidate. This is the first time in his memory he’s seen someone do that for a U.S. presidential candidate.


Mighty Sparrow is the calypso crooner. The title of the tune is “Barack the Magnificent.”


I’m Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.
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