For me, January 20,2009 was the closing book-end of two significant events in my lifetime. The other book-end occured on August 13, 1968.
I was 16 years old then. On that hot August day, a busload of my friends, full of hope for a better future, left Farmville, VA for Washington DC to participate in the March on Washington. I was not on that bus. I listened later to an address on the radio that became known as the "I Have a Dream" speech. That day, and the subsequent movement launched my transition into a future filled with promise. While full of promise, I, like many of my generation, hoped but did not expect to see an African American President of the USA in our lifetime. We knew how many barriers and obstacles that had to be overcome.
Then an obscure Illinois Senator ignited a new movement of hope that filled a different generation with a vision for a better future. This generation broke through all the barriers with such enthusiasm and energy that no one saw it coming. This new leader spoke of change in bold new terms and offered a vision shaped by a new worldview of inclusion and service, not the old worldview of oppression and exclusion that characterized the previous movement -- the Civil Rights Movement.
The rhetoric of King's vision became the working components of the new movement -- a focus on character, and not race. This didn't usher in a colorblind generation, but a generation that chose to focus on the content of Obama's character instead. Instead of fear, he appealed to their better instincts.
So, I was determined not to miss this day -- no matter the weather or other challenges that a crowd of 2 million people would present. Here is how my day went:
We left the home of friends in Bowie, MD to wait for an hour to park our car at the Metro station. The we waited another hour to board the train.
We arrived at the FederalCenter Metro Station a few blocks from the Capitol. Such a sea of humanity I had never encountered. Everyone was orderly, and there were no incidents to mar the occasion. None of us knew what we wer about to experience -- waiting on our feet for another 6 hours to witness history. There were people from everywhere in the USA and from all over the world. We had lots of time to get to know one another.
We had tickets for the Standing Area at the Blue Gate. The crowd continued to swell as the sun came up to to light the majesty of the Capitol Building. Everyone was bundled rom head to toe. Some used chemical hand and foot warmers inside their gloves and shoes. But no matter what was used the reality of 20 degrees Farenheit was enough to get the attention of all. We waited until the gates opened at 8:00 AM.
The growing crowd on the West Lawn of the Capitol simply filled the crowd with energy as we saw the podium begin to fill with guests and dignitaries. The majesty and significance of this historic moment started to set in. All throughout the crowd there were experssions of joy about just having the opportunity to get a glimpse -- even from our distant perch -- of this awesome event.
As the program proceded, we were entertained by choirs, Aretha Franklin, and the US Marine Corps Band, and a string quartet. The flag flew in the breeze as if on cue. The day brightened as if in preparation for a special occasion. By this time, none of us were feeling the cold that had numbed our fingers and toes. We were filled with the heat of the moment, and our recognition of the historic significance of this occasion. I had never been in a place with 1.2 million people -- mostly on foot, and so polite toward one another.
We all strained to get a glimpse of President Obama. However, there was no mistaking his resoinding tone when he bgan to speak. All the emotion of the occasion simply poured out for me. It was as if a great purpose in my life had been completed. The book-ends now framed the two life-changing events of my lifetime.
Our striving seemed fulfilled in this moment. Standing before the world was an African American representing the most powerful nation on the planet -- confident in his vision, determined in his purpose, and fully responsible to us all.
This will be a day that is etched in my memory. I cannot imagine what may come that will be more satisfying. All the doubts that lingered in my psyche are now erased. We are no longer motivated by a slogan, but the reality of his achievement.
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