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2012 fall columnists Credit: Ernest Owens , Justin Cohen

“He liked to be called Barry back then,” my uncle told me four years ago as we discussed the campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama. My uncle knew Barry as the man who cleaned up Roseland, a once-impoverished area that stretches between 89th and 115th streets in my hometown, Southside Chicago.

Roseland wasn’t always a wasteland. During the manufacturing boom, it was a promising area occupied by middle-class whites who worked at steel and manufacturing plants. But after the plants were shut down, white residents moved away from the area and Roseland became one of the more depressing parts of Chicago. With high unemployment, dropout and homicide rates, it was virtually hopeless.

Then came Barry. My uncles and cousins who lived near Roseland recall him as the big-eared guy with a wide smile who served them as a community organizer. When Barry announced that he would run for president, he talked about how working in Roseland was “the best education [he] ever had.” Move aside, Harvard Law. But in all seriousness, Barry never forgot about the people he worked with in Chicago. The work he did in office in Illinois and now in the White House continues to benefit communities like Roseland.

The stimulus package that Obama introduced in 2009 has provided government assistance for needy families, summer jobs to keep teenagers off the streets and financial help for citizens who are struggling to pay their rent. While this policy hasn’t transformed areas like Roseland into model neighborhoods, it has set them on the right course.

In fact, part of Obama’s stimulus package has provided grants to the Chicago public schools to pay for services like the Youth Advocate Program, which offers an effective and affordable alternative to the incarceration of young people.

The president’s ability to help nurture struggling communities such as Roseland does not come from a generic desire to help the poor. It comes from wisdom that is informed by actual experiences.

For his incomparable dedication to serving the less fortunate, while catering to the middle class, I whole-heartedly endorse President Barack Obama for a second term.

But our president is far from perfect. In 2008, while those beside me were seduced by Obama’s impeccable rhetoric, I was careful not to buy into the fantasy of immediate and swift change. However, it’s impossible to ignore the human element that Obama brings to the presidency. This key factor distinguishes him from his opponent, who is also a very smart man but lacks a hands-on approach to civic engagement.

Much of this election has focused on the economy, but in the lead-up to Tuesday, we should shift our attention to the betterment of the American people. Former Gov. Mitt Romney says he’ll guarantee greater income for citizens, and I have no doubts about his promise. But the programs he’ll cut to achieve this goal may not be worth it.

As noted in a tweet that went viral during the final presidential debate, Romney’s five-step plan mirrors that of the famous Cha Cha Slide:

1. To the left

2. Take it back now, ya’ll

3. Three hops this time

4. Slide to left, slide to the right

5. Cha cha now, ya’ll

While he’s danced through his plans to run the country, one thing he’s been clear on is reducing government programs and educational services, most notably PBS.

Penn students know that civic and community programs foster productivity. Programs like Community School Student Partnerships and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships that receive federal funding might be put on the chopping block in the name of reducing spending.

These cuts will create bruises that will weaken the state of the nation and stand in the way of universal progress.

President Obama knows this and it’s time we recognize it too. Roseland is not just an area in Chicago — it represents West Philly, Camden, Newark and numerous areas nationwide that need our help. Quakers set on climbing a great ladder of success owe it to their community to vote for a candidate that is committed to civic endeavors. It’s the only way we’ll ensure the American Dream for all.

Ernest Owens is a College junior from Chicago, Ill. His email address is “The Ernest Opinion” appears every Friday. Toss him a tweet @MrErnestOwens.

Editor’s clarification: This column has been altered to make clear that the comparison between Romney’s 5-point plan to the Cha Cha slide was not the author’s original idea. This comparison was in fact drawn from Tweets that went viral during the final presidential debate.

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