By Lucia Jean and David Soblick
President Obama has lived in the White House since before his election.
In Sarah Brinson’s Brooklyn-based “White House,” that is.
Obama has been a mainstay in Ms. Brinson’s white brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant – which has been adorned with posters, buttons, photographs, newspapers and virtually every piece of Obama campaign paraphernalia imaginable — since she his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Ms. Brinson recalls the occasion clearly. “I was lying in bed watching the speech; he’s a very powerful speaker. When he said, ‘I am running for President of the United States.’ I said ‘I’m running with you!”
Ms. Brinson’s passion for politics has lasted far longer than the past 4 years and a single Presidential campaign. She remembers her first days as an activist in 1960, working to promote candidate John F. Kennedy.
The retired educator took it upon herself to motivate the people around her. “My mother, my mother-in-law, her close friends and neighbors weren’t even registered to vote. They had never voted in their lives.”
So Ms. Brinson rented a van to drive them to voting sites in their neighborhoods. “Black people were busy raising their children, working and going to church. For one reason or another, they weren’t able to be active in politics.”
The realities of daily life weren’t the only obstacles to voting in Brinson’s community. To even register to vote, they had to deal with the now infamous “literacy tests.” Among the questions on those tests, one remains clear in her mind even after all these years. “There was one question that I will never forget: ‘What color was George Washington’s white horse?’ It was such an obvious question, a degrading question. But we all, of course, could answer it correctly.”
Ever since, Brinson has continued to be active, leading Shirley Chisholm to become the first African-American woman in Congress and participating in Jesse Jackson’s Presidential campaign. She always had her sights set on the White House. “With Jesse Jackson, I thought, ‘He may not get it, but one day…’
In hindsight, she told us, she can see that Congresswoman Chisholm and Rev. Jackson laid a foundation. “When Obama came, I thought I owed it to them, to work for him.” So the victory in 2008 was a very emotional one for Ms. Brinson. “I always believed that I would live to see the first Black President.”
As she gears up for the 2012 Presidential election, it’s clear her passion has only grown with time. She hands out flyers in her neighborhood, makes calls and plans to host a fundraiser at the “white house” with a goal of $200,000.
In the near future, she wishes to expand her operation, reaching out to parts of the neighborhood that have had low voting turnouts, and particularly to young people. “I’ll work the bottoms off my shoes again, to get him reelected.”