Shenika Simpson of Charlotte, North Carolina. An unemployed single mother, Simpson said that Obama "can't just jump in the chair and fix everything within a year." (AP Photo/Jesse Washington)
If Barack Obama embodies the American dream of equal opportunity, Velma Hart represents the midnight wake-up call bearing bad news. In September, the Army veteran and successful executive interrupted Obama's "recovery summer" road show by announcing, in a CNBC town hall meeting with the president, that she was broken. "I'm exhausted of defending you," she told the president. "I have been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I am one of those people, and I'm waiting sir. I'm waiting."
Loretta Harrison is a born hustler. "I been making and selling things since I was about 8 years old," says the 45-year-old, unemployed mom. She buys wholesale in Manhattan -- balloons, socks, scarves, you name it -- then loads up a pushcart and sells at retail prices on the streets of Jamaica, Queens. She's peddled Icees off the back of a tricycle, teamed up with her teenage son to hawk bottled water for $1 at stoplights, and organized "passion parties," where she brings together groups of women to gab about sex and buy erotic toys. "I love sales," she gushes. "For me to have something that somebody else wants and for them to go in their pocket and bring out hard-earned money to get what I have is just -- it's like a high to me!"
When my mom describes it all now--10 months after she walked away from her house of 14 years--she sounds sort of crazy to me. I make her explain again and again, because the depth of her denial about the situation she faced is hard for me to understand. But that's the thing about losing stuff. Whether it's your keys or your life savings, it's tough getting to that moment when you realize something's gone for good.
The hope in Tracy's voice was contagious. He had just come out of Alabama's state prison system and was looking forward to starting over. He'd gotten some part-time work and secured a comfortable, if sparsely furnished apartment. He was a classic Southern hunk -- a handsome, stout, mocha-skinned man with a slow drawl and a natural charm -- and so had no trouble finding women to date. That was exciting but also scary, because Tracy had newly committed himself to confronting his 12-year-old HIV infection.
America began perverting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message in the spring of 1963. Truthfully, you could put the date just about anywhere along the earlier timeline of his brief public life, too. But I mark it at the Birmingham movement's climax, right about when Northern whites needed a more distant, less personally threatening change-maker to juxtapose with the black rabble rousers clambering into their own backyards. That's when Time politely dubbed him the "Negroes' inspirational leader," as Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff point out in their excellent book Race Beat.