Woman on Obama Inauguration

Above here’s a great video prayer for Obama from a woman I encountered in front of the jam-packed National Museum of African Art yesterday. I think it matches the feelings of many but perhaps better expressed than most.

Today I managed after walking for miles to find a spot on the National Mall among the sea of people watching the Inauguration. We all struggled to peer through all the heads to see a Jumbotron. The crowd was mostly friendly although tempers did flare several times at checkpoints and when standing. The crowds were thick and emotions were running high. It was sometimes difficult to move and there were times when I literally feared being trampled or simply crushed without the ability to breath.

When arguments started between black people, other black folks would call out — “Not Today!” “Let It Go!” “Obama!” The entire throng of people — millions — booed when Bush and Cheney were announced and erupted in happy cheers when Michelle and Barack entered the scene. The crowd was boisterous during the first part of the program and thrilled by Aretha’s rendition of My Country Tis of Thee. Many voices joined Rick Warren’s prayer of “Our Lord Who Art In Heaven”. We all laughed when the announcer told us we could be seated – for all but a very few, there were no seats for miles on end. We were all charmed when Obama stumbled a bit, nervously, over his oath of office. Even more striking was the silence of millions of people, rich and poor, young and old, singles and familes, multi-hued when Obama began his speech. Only one voice could be heard for miles and miles, ringing through the hearts of all who strained to hear the man’s words. There were several places in Obama’s incredibly powerful and moving speech where the crowd spontaneously cheered that also happen to be among my favorite parts:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. [CHEERS]

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given.  It must be earned.  Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.  It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.  Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.  They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. [CHEERS]  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed.  Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. [BIG CHEERS]

Rev. Joseph Lowery’s opened his benediction with the first words of the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing — a bit of code to all the many black folk who braved the bitter cold:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears…

He expressed hopes that in the future:
“black won’t need to get back”
“brown will stick around,”
“yellow will be mellow,”
“the red man would get ahead, man,” and
“the white will embrace the right.”

The crowd was delighted and Rev. Lowery’s speech brought laughter to the crowd at the end with classical African-American humor with a purpose. When he closed with “Let all who do justice and love mercy say amen” AMEN roared all of us. Again, Lowery said “And say amen!” AMEN!!! prayed the crowd even louder. It was classic call-and-response.

We are a people that loves to express ourselves through clothing and I’ve never seen so many fur coats in my life. The glittering rhinestone-festooned hats for Obama, millions of t-shirts and caps — it’s black culture in action to show personal pride, wealth and celebration with not just our words and deeds but even our own bodies. It will be interesting to see how all this exposure to some of the best aspects of black culture that many Americans may never have experienced in this way before will change our nation’s character and our relationships with each other.

Once it was over, I was wiping away tears and a woman next to me whom I hadn’t noticed until that moment tapped my shoulder. She was white. Without words she opened her arms to hug me and I saw tears on her face too. Obama is right that this moment is not about him, ultimately. All of this energy, excitement, passion & hope is about what this moment means for all of us.

Martin Luther King Jr. said “A man cannot ride you unless your back is bent.” Much of Obama’s speech served to contrast his approach to that of the hated George Bush who sat chagrined, pouting & smirking through the whole affair. Today, because an unlikely figure has been chosen by the American people to lead us, all Americans can stand straighter today and that gives me a sense of courage for the future, no matter the challenges ahead.

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