It feels like a lifetime ago, but it's been only two months since Barack Obama made his historic speech at the National Constitution Center that challenged us to examine our racial attitudes.

But real life, as it always does, has deflated that momentary euphoria and hope for progress.

While those hardworking young, idealistic black and white Obama field workers got a rude introduction to the ugliness of racism, it doesn't help that Hillary Rodham Clinton baits her hook with a prickly piece of race and goes fishing for those hardworking voters - you know, those "hardworking


, white

Americans," in West Virginia, she said, channeling hubby Bill on her own Bubba tour.

She hooked the so-called values voters in a big way, giving her a landslide win in Tuesday's primary.

You'd be downright offended if you didn't know her to be so blatantly opportunistic.

"It's almost like she's the Al Sharpton of white people!" MSNBC's Chris Matthews screamed about the gas-holiday-pumping coal miner's daughter of West Virginia by way of Scranton.

I guess she'll morph into fellow marathoner Alberto Salazar when she heads to Oregon.

But thankfully, some people are still focused on what's really important, which is bringing people together.

The Rev. Charles W. Quann, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Spring House, Montgomery County, and an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention, announced to his congregation on Sunday that he had switched his support from Clinton to Obama.

The pastor of the 1,600-member church committed to Clinton before Obama entered the race.

"Candidates do all kinds of things to get elected," said the pastor, who is African American. " . . . I would not want to judge the Clintons based on this campaign."

"I believe Hillary Clinton is a wonderful individual. She's smart and capable and can lead us forward, but I switched because I think Barack Obama is going to be the nominee."

Hillary support aside, like many people, he was inspired by Obama's speech on race. But unlike most, he accepted the challenge.

On Tuesday night, Quann brought together civic, educational, and Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders for a "Dialogue on Race" at his church.

A few years ago, he actively worked to make his predominantly black church more racially diverse and broke the gender ceiling by welcoming women to become deacons.

"I really believe that it's pivotal, in terms of harboring old wounds, that we do something about [racial divisions]," Quann said. "We are going to go forward or we are going to go backward."

Montgomery County Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel noted: "

This is the first time in 35 years in politics that I have been asked to talk to a group about race.


African Americans in attendance spoke of the discrimination that they experience in their daily lives.

For many whites, the examination was internal.

Panelist Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told of being approached one night by three black men who asked him for a battery jump in a dark Philadelphia parking lot.

Admitting his fear at that moment, "I told them I didn't have cables," he said. "They told me they had cables."

A white Wissahickon High School teacher in the audience related that one of her black male students always carries more money than he needs when he goes into the convenience store so that the clerk won't think he's stealing.

"That thought is not even on my son's radar screen," the teacher said. "He has the luxury of not being perceived in that way."

Morrison concluded his own story at the end of the night.

"[The black men] took out their cables and I helped them start their car," he said, adding, "I guess it was easy for me to tell the story because it ended that way."

"You have to take risks from time to time," Morrison offered. "Unless we show good faith, we're not being sincere about wanting to make things better."

Penn professor John L. Jackson Jr., author of the recently released

Racial Paranoia


The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness

, told me this week that only honesty would get us past this ugly legacy.

"We say we don't believe in stereotypes, yet we trot them out every day," he said.

"It's about recognizing that it's OK to tell people how you feel." But first you have to be honest with yourself.

Wounds will have to be opened for the healing to begin.

He added: "You're going to have gnashing of teeth, but hopefully in a safe enough place where people are going to be OK after it's done."

At least at Bethlehem Baptist, it was a beginning.

Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or

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