‘Almost resets the paradigm'

At 31, Sidney Echevarria has no memories of the civil rights struggle. But what she does have are family stories.

Like the one her mother tells of not being able to check out a book from a library in the segregated South. Or the time her father, a light-skinned black man, shaved his head while driving across Texas in an effort not to stand out.

“That was part of (their) history, and it helps me understand the gravity and significance of what we're doing right now,” said Echevarria, a Bank of America worker from Belmont.

This week she's helping make history herself by nominating Barack Obama as the first African American to lead a major party.

Growing up in Gaston County, Echevarria was often the only black student in school before heading off to UNC Chapel Hill. She calls her role in Obama's nomination a little “nerve-wracking,” but another step in an unfolding process of race relations.

Obama, she says, “almost resets the paradigm” in how people see African Americans.

“I'm excited that so many people are able to see his intelligence and ability,” she said. “What it does is give another image, another powerful stereotype … to counteract a lot of those other images.”

While she expects Obama to win, Echevarria said that won't be the end of the story.

“My fear is that … people will say ‘We're done,' meaning that the conversation about race, about those disparities, will stop because we have a black president,” she said. “I think it's just the opposite.”