audrey_edmonson.jpgWASHINGTON, D.C. _ On the eve of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration as the nation’s 44th president, South Floridians were kicking off the celebration early in Washington, D.C.

“You saw a sense of hope and pride just to be able to be here,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who arrived in D.C. on Saturday.  “It’s giving us a sense of pride—black people and all minorities.  It’s something to be proud of.  For once, we can say a man is elected not for his color, but because he is the most qualified.”

Inaugural events began on Sunday with the “We are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial, with musical performances by Bruce Springsteen, U2, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce and Usher.  Thousands gathered on the National Mall for the free concert and watched as Obama addressed the crowd from the same spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech almost 50 years ago.

"I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure," Obama said. "That it will prevail; that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.”

Although Edmonson wasn’t able to attend the concert, she did watch the event and Obama’s speech from her hotel in nearby Virginia. 

Other South Floridians, however, did have the opportunity to witness Obama’s speech first hand.

“I was balling,” said Kathleen Black, 23, a native of Miami and a graduate of Florida International University who recently moved from Miami to D.C. to attend George Washington Law School.

 “I was very excited and overwhelmed,’’ Black said. “This is why I came to D.C. for law school—so that I could be a part of these huge events.  It was intense; I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Black planned to wake up at 6 a.m. on Tuesday to secure a place on the National Mall with 20 of her closest friends. They plan to watch the inauguration ceremonies.

On Monday, Obama, Vice-President-elect Joe Biden and their families observed Martin Luther King Day by participating in activities dedicated to serving others, including “Renew America Together: A Call to Service.”

The inaugural festivities continued Monday evening with three bipartisan dinners, each honoring an American who has shown a dedication to public service while promoting bipartisanship.  The three Americans honored were Gen. Colin Powell, Sen. John McCain and Biden.

South Floridians also observed MLK Day by celebrating at different events throughout the city.

The Miami chapter of Women for Obama gathered about 25 of its members for brunch at Georgia Brown’s Restaurant.

“You get caught up in the excitement being around all these people,” said Priscilla Dames-Blake of Hialeah, a member of the group.  “No matter where we go, you can feel the excitement in the air.”

Bradford Brown, the only non-African American to have served as president of the Miami-Dade NAACP branch, visited the NAACP Inauguration Headquarters in D.C., where he attended a panel on civil rights.  On Sunday, Brown listened to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright speak at Howard University.

“He was fantastic,” Brown said.  This was a real high point.”

Freddie Young, a former Miami-Dade elementary school principal, spent MLK Day watching the news from her D.C. hotel with her friends.  They reminisced about their experiences when black people were relegated to the back of the bus during segregation, she said.

“I thought this day would never come,” Young said.

Young plans to watch the inauguration at a New York state luncheon in a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.

While many South Floridians have already gotten a head start on the inaugural festivities, other South Floridians are still en route to D.C.

One bus trip departing from South Florida is hosted by radio station Hot 105 F.M. and was scheduled to arrive early Tuesday morning, in time for the inaugural ceremonies. About 139 South Floridians were traveling on the Hot 105 trip, said Beverly Williams, the trip’s organizer. People aboard the three buses plan to attend the inauguration and the inaugural parade, and also visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, she said.

More than 2 million people are expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday on the National Mall.

Pictured above is Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.

Editor's note: Whitney Sessa is a graduate student of journalism at the University of Miami. Her classmates, Deborah Acosta, Aiyana Baida, Jenna Farmer, Virginia Gil, Michael North and Rebecca Rodriguez also contributed to this report.