When President Barack Obama began his Campaign of Change, no one could have imagined how fast and broad reaching it could be.
Our family realized the power of change first hand as we journeyed to Washington, D.C. to witness the inauguration of our 44th president. Our journey, which took us from South Florida to D.C. and spanned over four days, was filled with lots of walking and cold limbs.
It was also filled with unimaginable realities, amazing experiences, teaching moments and visual imprints that can never be replicated. Who could have imagined that a presidential campaign could engage so many people around the country, or that they would travel from all over to “live the moment?”
We would have never imagined in our wildest dreams that an African American would become president in our lifetime, or that we would be able to witness it. This was the sentiment of all who made the journey, over 2 million strong and vastly diverse in age, race, gender, socio-economic level, sexual orientation and geographic representation.
It was also unimaginable that most people in America knew someone who was in D.C. We personally had family and friends who traveled from Texas, California, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Florida and local D.C. While everyone had their own itinerary of amazing activities filled with many “firsts and teaching moments,” whenever possible, people were connecting with old friends and new friends to create memories of a lifetime.
Our schedule included attending the opening ceremony/concert, the reception hosted by Florida Congress Members Ron Klein, Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Robert Wexler, the inauguration swearing in and The People’s Project Inaugural Ball.
It was amazing to feel the energy, from the vendors peddling a variety of cool inauguration memorabilia, to large groups who were adorned with matching accessories, to impromptu bursts of chatter and chants, to hundreds of thousands of people standing on the mall in cold weather just waiting and wanting to be part of history. In that moment, standing on the mall, it made us take pause and appreciate its history and those who stood where we were, from the March on Washington, to the Million Man March, to the inauguration of the nation’s first black president.
The opening ceremony was amazing with an all-star lineup of entertainers who engaged the crowd, but it was only when Obama’s image came up on the screen that it was clear why everyone was there. The energy that we knew the country had for this inspirational leader, who drove so many to become engaged in the political process, came pouring out every time his image was shown with roars and screams of excitement.
That excitement never dulled. Through the bitter cold, fellow citizens stood in lines to get coveted tickets from their local congressmen, to take pictures by the monuments and buildings which so many had never seen before, to see some of the news reporters who they trusted to deliver information “in the flesh,” including my 17-year-old daughter’s favorite CNN reporter, Anderson Cooper.
It was in those moments that we realized change is coming to America. It made us wonder, how many firsts are we witnessing today? For many, it was sure to be their first visit to D.C., their first time meeting their local congressman and their first inauguration ceremony. It also represented opportunities for many teaching moments: Behind every monument or statue there was a story to tell and a lesson to be taught. We could imagine older visitors sharing their life experiences of segregation with younger visitors, parents explaining to children how government works, and the role of the congressmen who may have extended tickets to the ceremony.
As memorable as the unimaginable realities, amazing experiences and teaching moments were, it was the visual imprints which will be forever etched in our minds. Like a slideshow, we can see millions of people converging on the mall, our brave national guardsmen keeping watch, millions of diverse people standing and sharing history, joyously shoulder to shoulder, President Barack Obama taking the oath, an eruption of elation from the crowd with flags waving, tears of joy streaming and hugs abound.
The most powerful visual of all, however, was seeing those in attendance leaving a changed people with a spirit of “ONENESS,” ready to live up to the promise that “Yes We Can” build a better America starting today, together.
Patrick J. Franklin is the president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County.