Dear Leah,

When you started looking for a black armband to wear to school yesterday morning, I knew that, at 17, you not only were already swept up in this city's unusual and persistent liberalism, but feeling deeply discouraged by the election's outcome.

You weren't too responsive at first to my urging for a little optimism as we contemplated President Reagan's stunning and historic reelection victory. Having lived your entire life in a town that marches to a different drummer when it comes to choosing a president, your political senses are acute.

But even in the clear personal triumph that Americans gave to Ronald Wilson Reagan and the equally clear repudiation they delivered to Walter F. Mondale, there are some positives to accentuate.

Yes, there was a clear racial split of the electorate -- with white voters favoring Reagan by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1 and black voters favoring Mondale by 9 to 1. But don't be too discouraged. We see the suffering of the disadvantaged at much closer range than many other Americans, and our vote is influenced by that sensitive proximity.

So do not consider that white vote a racial rejection so much as a vote for a president who makes them feel better. Look instead to the reasons why this election year can be considered special for a young black person, and take heart.

* Item: Don't forget the impact of Jesse L. Jackson, as the first black to get national attention in a run for president. His courageous effort, despite the missteps, not only made this country come closer to its democratic ideals, but it also opened a door long shut to blacks.

Because of his pioneering role, the way is cleared for a black presidential candidate to run in the future.

In your studies, you have focused on the 1920s with its black cultural renaissance, and the 1960s with its civil rights gains. These were significant important stages in our evolution from the status of "outsider" to being a little closer to becoming a true part of the complex racial and ethnic patchwork quilt that is America.

You see, for decades, leaders pushed the message that political power would break down economic and cultural barriers. But it was a maxim that many blacks read as "their civic duty" and ignored because they felt locked out of the system and thought their voices wouldn't count.

Jackson used his charisma to cut through the apathy by making the masses understand that voting was not just a duty but could really open up the way to inclusion in the economic process.

Well, more blacks voted in this election than ever before! That is significant progress. A wellspring of pent-up energy exists, waiting to be used. The increased vote was a clear sign that blacks, in spite of considerable adversity, are willing to be part of the system and ask only for the opportunity.

My friend, a writer who is proud of his realistic view of America, put it this way: "It means black people are thinking of themselves as citizens, saying, 'I'm an American as well as a black person.' "

* Item: In this city, you can be proud that the youth vote was well represented. This significance may elude one born, as you, in the late '60s, honed on the apathy of the '70s, and part of a generation of young blacks stratified by income and opportunity as no other in history.

But amidst the gloom at the Democratic National Committee party at the Capital Hilton on election night, a trio of Howard University students who were voting in their first presidential campaign wore a glow.

Beverly Smith, 20, said Jackson's campaign demonstrated "for the first time we can succeed regardless of the fact that we're black. We did not experience the sixties and Martin Luther King. We have a longing to belong and we know many blacks died so we could vote. I don't want those lives to have been lost in vain. Even though we are a minority we are a large enough minority to make a difference."

* Item: Geraldine Ferraro's nomination for the vice presidency is a historical marker that also will have a liberating effect for you as you approach young womanhood.

So take pride in your beliefs, and keep the faith.