Put aside the politics. Put aside the ugliness of the campaign trail.
Let's take a minute to consider what our country has become.
When I was born in 1961, Jim Crow still reined in much of the South. Virginia had public schools that closed rather than admit black students. Blacks could not count on restaurants to serve them meals, theaters to allow them entry, landlords to rent to them, buses to offer them seats, or registrars to let them vote.
The country, as more than one national commission found during my childhood, was divided into a black nation and a white one. The divide was sometimes fearsome, and not just in Dixie.
It wasn't so long ago that Martin Luther King, Jr's plea from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that we judge a man by the content of his character rather than color of his skin seemed a distant dream.
Now, though, it seems that the world truly has been transformed, not by Obama but by us. We changed so powerfully and thoroughly in the course of just a few decades that something unimaginable in those days is now reality: a black American -- or, perhaps more fittingly, a biracial one -- is going to become the president of the United States.
An office that was once the home of slaveholders -- some of them my heroes in spite of their flaws -- is going to belong to a man who could have been bought and sold in the early days of our history.
Obama's election is not the end of the great racial tragedy that brought so much bloodshed and heartache to our land. But it is certainly a gigantic stride into a happier future, a future where there are no easy excuses for failure and no room to tolerate anything less than the ideals we have proven we possess.
King told us on the night before a gunman shot him down outside a Memphis motel that he had "seen the Promised Land" ahead.
Perhaps we all do now.
I hope that President Obama will prove his critics wrong and that he can bring us together to fulfill the common destiny we share to extend the American Dream to everyone, to give everyone a fair shake and a fair shot.
No doubt, he'll fall short. They all do.
But he has already, thanks to the votes of millions of Americans and the hopes of many more, shown all of us, and the world, that this country is better than ever, that the dreams of our fathers can become the reality of our children.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org