COMMENTARY| May 11 marked the thirty-first anniversary of the death of reggae legend Bob Marley. According to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama traveled to Reno on May 11 “for an unspecified official event regarding the nation’s economy.” Obama was 31 years old when he made his first mark on the political landscape by heading up Project Vote, described by Chicago Magazine in 1993 as “the most effective minority voter registration drive in memory.”
Now, while this may seem like a poor example of Marley-Obama synchronicity, there are actually quite a few similarities in the lives of these two men.
Both were half white and half black.
* Robert Nesta Marley was the son of a black mother, Cedella Malcom, and a white father, Norval Sinclair Marley.
* Barack Hussein Obama was the son of a white mother, Ann Dunham and a black father, Barack Obama, Sr.
* Both Marley’s and Obama’s fathers abandoned the family.
Both Marley and Obama drew large crowds – with concerts.
* Marley’s April 1978 One Love peace concert drew 32,000 spectators.
* Obama’s October 2010 rally in Columbus, OH — where John Legend gave a free concert — drew 35,000 people.
* Marley’s free concerts — Smile Jamaica and the post Independence concert in Zimbabwe in April 1980 — drew 80,000 people each.
* Obama’s May 2008 rally in Oregon — where the indie rock band the Decemberists played a free 45-minute concert — drew 75,000 spectators.
* Obama’s July 2008 speech – and a free concert that included reggae artist Patrice – attracted an estimated 200,000 to the Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park.
Also, while Marley did it for a living, Obama demonstrated that he too can sing.
Both Marley and Obama said they wanted to unite the world in peace.
* “Me only have one ambition, y’know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen,” Marley once said. “I like to see mankind live together – black, white, Chinese, everyone – that’s all.“
Thirty one years after his death, Marley’s music is played worldwide and still has the power to bring people of many races and nationalities together.
* “There’s not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there is the United States of America,” Obama said while running for president in 2008.
Unfortunately, an April Newsweek-Daily Beast survey showed 75 percent of Americans believe the country is either somewhat or very racially divided. Rasmussen said 55 percent of Americans believe hate is growing since Obama took office.
Assassination attempts were made on the lives of both men.
* Dec. 3 1976 — When violence between the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labor Party threatened to tear Jamaica apart, upon request, Marley agreed to headline a peace concert. Two days prior to the concert an assassination attempt was made on Marley’s life to prevent the concert from taking place. His wife, Rita, underwent surgery to remove a bullet that grazed her head and was released from the hospital the next day. Marley’s manager, Don Taylor, was shot five times. He was airlifted to Miami’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital where a bullet, lodged against his spinal cord, was removed.
Marley, who received minor gunshot wounds, insisted that the concert would go on.
During the concert — after performing a defiant rendition of “War” for his would-be assassins — Marley spontaneously summoned JLP leader Edward Seaga and PLP leader Michael Manley to the stage. Marley urged the rival politicians to shake hands and, clasping his hand over theirs, Marley raised their arms in the air and chanted — “Jah, Rastafari.”
* Nov. 11, 2011 — Shots fired by Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez struck the White House near the residence area where Obama and his family live. No one was injured. CNN reported Hernandez called Obama “the anti-Christ.”
Both men received peace awards.
* June 1978 — In recognition of his years of courageous effort to bring peace to the world, Marley was awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World by the United Nations. He gave credit to “Jah.”
* December 2009 — Obama, who took office less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline, received the Nobel Peace Prize. He admitted that — compared to others — who had spent their lives suffering “in the pursuit of justice” and were “far more deserving” — his “accomplishments” were “slight.”
Both Marley and Obama suffered anxiety in their youth for being of mixed race.
The Daily Mail reported in 2010 that, around the age of 13, Marley was so angst-ridden over his white heritage that he used shoe polish to blacken his hair to make himself appear more black.
“I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen,” Snopes confirmed Obama writing in his book, “Dreams of My Father, “when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.”
While at Columbia University, Obama disapproved of what he called “half-breeds” who gravitated toward whites instead of blacks.
“I don’t have prejudice against myself,” Jah Works quoted Marley later saying in the video biography, Time Will Tell.
“My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.”
* Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was “Hope and Change.”
* The Bob Marley Museum, Marley’s former home and studio of Tuff Gong, is located at 56 Hope Road in Kingston.
Oh, and although for different reasons, both Marley and Obama “inhaled frequently.”
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