MIAMI (AP) — In a desolate, weed-filled lot in a neighborhood nestled just beyond Miami’s glass-and-steel skyscrapers, business was brisk at Earl Quinn’s makeshift T-shirt shop. As soon as he could print them, T-shirts with President-elect Barack Obama’s name in glitter and his face in silver studs were sold.
Suddenly, this predominantly black community that had suffered for years with poverty, unemployment and racial tension had come to life the day after Obama’s historic victory as the first African-American president of the United States. Customers arrived in pajamas, some still tired after a night of celebrating, just to grab a souvenir.
“You got the one that says, ‘It’s not a black thing, it’s not a white thing, but it’s a right thing?’ ” one customer asked.
Quinn shook his head. Sold out.
“You got the shirt that says ‘Mission Possible?’ The other day, you were wearing that shirt, ‘Mission Possible.’ ”
“It’s not ‘Mission Possible,’ ” he said. “It’s now ‘Mission Accom-plished.’”
Across the country, black communities large and small – enclaves that for decades have been plagued with poverty, foreclosures and crushing violence – are flush with the realization that a black man has done the unplausible. Yet beyond the discussions of hope and change, people say they believe an Obama presidency might bring more concrete relief: jobs, affordable housing and safety.
Jobs and hope have long been scarce commodities in Liberty City. Its name comes from a housing project built in the 1930s for poor African-Americans and is known around Florida for a few things.
One is its high school football team, ranked tops in the country by sports cable TV channel ESPN last year. Another is grinding poverty. The median household income hovers around $18,000 a year, some $30,000 less than the U.S. average.
It’s also known for riots.
In 1979, a black insurance agent named Arthur McDuffie was beaten to death by white and Hispanic police officers. An all-white jury acquitted them of charges including second-degree murder, and Liberty City exploded. The three-day riot left 18 dead, countless injured and 850 arrested.
Many of the neighborhood’s businesses – including some of the buildings near Quinn’s T-shirt tent – were destroyed, then rebuilt.
Then in 1989, police killed another black motorist, and rioters spewed into the streets just days before the Super Bowl was held in Miami.
The area has never fully recovered. Boarded-up buildings, drug dealers and, recently, foreclosures, have mushroomed. Racial tension among blacks, whites, Hispanics and even newer black Caribbean arrivals have simmered for years.
But at least in Quinn’s T-shirt tent, some of that tension seems to have eased.
“They are seeing people who don’t look like them support Barack Obama, an African-American,” said Al Dotson Jr., a black man who grew up in Miami and is now one of the city’s top lawyers. “It says, when I give it my all and apply myself, maybe good things will happen. It’s not just hope, now people can visualize it.”
In Newark, N.J., Obama’s election enlightened those at the most somber of gatherings: a funeral.
Tonya Worthy, 35, was the latest of dozens of victims killed in the city this year. Killings are so commonplace that earlier this year, a month without a murder was reason to celebrate. T-shirt shops carry “R.I.P.” shirts in front windows.
As Osman Sharif, 70, and his friends left the service, they said they’re tired of the shootings and tired of burying young people. They look to the president-elect to help leaders like Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker break the cycle of inner-city violence. They saw his election as the beginning of a long period of change.
“Economic development will stop all of this because the main industry here is drugs,” said Sharif. “Obama’s election is just the beginning. All of us have got to work together to address what’s going on with the kids in the street and make sure there are good jobs available for them.”
In Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, an area on the east end where nearly every other home or building is boarded up, residents are reluctant to take down their election signs and they wear their Obama T-shirts and pins with pride.
“It’s a status symbol to have an Obama pin,” said Rashad Byrdsong, a community activist who lives in Homewood. “Even my 3-year-old grandson, I asked him who is the first black president and he said Barack Obama. He’s been following this election for one year of his three years of life.”
Byrdsong, who is president of Pittsburgh’s Community Empowerment Association, is hopeful but cautioned that change does not come quickly or easily.
“We have to be a little careful in looking prematurely at whether our lives will be changed or not,” Byrdsong said. “This is the first step in the process of people embracing the conception of hope and transformation.”
Back at Quinn’s T-shirt stand, William Roberts, 46, had driven from a neighboring county to pick up a T-shirt.
“I’m buying history,” he said. “Miami has been divided at times, where you have the cops killing your young black kids. It’s a time now where we can all come together as one. It shows you that we have grown.”
Liberty City resident Victor Atkins also believes that time has come.
The 44-year-old government worker took off the day after Election Day to celebrate, rolled down the windows in his truck and blasted “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” a ‘70s classic by McFadden and Whitehead. He had to buy a T-shirt.
“For me, it means that for all of those African-Americans who said the system kept us down, well, now, no matter what the system says, there’s no more excuses,” he said. “We truly can become anything we want.”
As he looked through the dwindling pile of T-shirts, the stereo from his truck kept blasting from the window: “Don’t you let nothin’, nothin’ stand in your waaaay…”
Associated Press writers Victor Epstein in New Jersey and Ramit Masti in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.