Our drive to the nation’s capital was book-ended by listening to the excellent audio recording of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by Isabel Wilkerson. The audio version performed by Robin Miles brings to life the complex characters whose lives are portrayed in vivid detail, testimony to the tenacity of African Americans to endure and resist racism.We stepped out of that narrative into one of the greatest multi-colored street parties any city has known: the second inauguration of President Barack H. Obama.
The mood was already festive Sunday night, Inauguration eve at a jam-packed party hosted by founders of http://www.globalgiving.org , the online charitable marketplace. Here are just a few of the many projects they seek donations for: solar lighting; clean cook stoves, rainforest restoration and preservation.
We chatted with a young woman wearing an “Obama” skirt, a marine- blue cotton pencil-skirt with ruffle. President Obama’s face shown in red and black among maps of African countries in the background. She was hesitant to wear it, she said, but we assured her it was the perfect outfit for the occasion. The skirt wearer had worked for a non-profit in Kenya where the fabric was designed. She told us how an elderly ancestor of President Obama greeted visitors who made the arduous pilgrimage to her remote rural village.
We were on our own sort of pilgrimage, as were hundreds of thousands of others.The feeling on the streets of D.C. that night was giddy, if also poignant. Restaurants were packed. “There won’t be another black president in a long while,” cried one slightly inebriated reveler. He was right; it gave us pause. Better enjoy this moment now!
Early Monday morning people of all colors streamed into the streets and swirled into one great river of humanity on the Mall. We tucked in with a group of friends near the Washington Monument. So many jubilant faces, young, old, in between, smiling and making space for one another even though the jumbo-tron near us didn’t work well. We could hear cheers from the crowd closer to the Capitol flowing across the Mall. “We were made for this moment,” said our president.
Later, at the parade, a booming voice announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States!” We rushed the gates in time to see the back of Pres. Obama’s beloved round head. Later, both Joe and Dr. Jill Biden walked by on their way to the White House. We had a clear view of them. “He looked directly at me,” shouted one young student to his friend. We felt that way, too.
Next day, despite the bitter cold, we visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. Crowds continued to swirl; the city was full of the nation’s citizens. Everyone wanted their picture taken in front of these two great figures, an act of affirmation, as if to say, “We are here; we are part of these United States.”
We caught a glimpse of what this nation could really be when everyone’s included. And it was beautiful!