On Tuesday, January 20, 2009, second-year Master of Divinity students Adrain Bowie and Kyndra Frazier (pictured above, left and right, respectively) attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, DC. Adrain and Kyndra’s dialogue about the preparations for and experiences on the trip is the subject of the Blog this week.
Adrain: Four students on January 16th, 2009 standing in line at Candler’s Cokesbury Bookstore, filled with excitement, asked the questions, “Well, are we going or no? Are we going to go to the Inauguration in Washington D.C.? Where will we stay?” I told them, “Don’t worry,Carolyn and I have made a call to friends in D.C. I ‘m sure we can stay with them for a couple of days. I’ll call everyone, but until then pray.”
Late Saturday night, Jan 17th, three of us from Candler decided to make history. On Sunday, January 18 at 4:40 p.m., Kyndra Frazier and Cheryl Wilcox, along with Carolyn and me, were on our way to Washington D.C., to witness the swearing in of the first African American President of the United States of America. This was a significant point of entry for me at 58 years old. 46 years ago I missed the chance to become a part of history when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, because I was too young to transport myself.
But not this time! I was determined to be among this enormous body of U.S. citizens who believed YES WE CAN! I knew in my heart that we all were the Yes We Can Generation and we were the ones we had been waiting for. We had changed the world.
We got to Washington, D.C. at 4:30 a.m. on Monday, January 19th, and by early evening we were on the streets of the capital city. Our host Daryl wanted us to experience the pre-inauguration mania. We purposely road the transit service, and exited the bus onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and it was already crazy out there!
Kyndra: I am a part of a generation that has had no Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X,or Huey P. Newton. Adrain missed an opportunity to see Martin Luther King, Jr. make history, but I was not going to miss this opportunity to make history. I was going to see the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at least partially realized at the 2009 Inauguration of President Obama. I am a part of the Yes We Can Generation in large part because Adrain and many others before her were a part of generations that had a vision. That vision has finally come to fruition even though our ancestors weathered the storms of institutionalized slavery, segregation, and the tumults of Civil Rights Movement. Current and future generations will reap the benefits of this Inauguration because of our work and the work that was done before us.
Adrain: In D.C., the vendors were selling anything from hats to sunglasses and everything in between— even socks!—with Obama’s name on them. All kinds of folks from every nationality were laughing and joking about the historical moment that was to take place. On Monday evening we got as close to the Capitol as we could, close enough to see the flags hanging up in front of the area where the swearing in process would take place. It was a moment of jubilance. We could hardly believe it. The three of us being 58, 60, and 68 years old just stood in silence. Then we were on to the parade route. Our friend Daryl said this would be about as close as we were going to get. Because the inauguration and parade took place on the same day, we had to make a choice to attend one or the other. We chose to attend the inauguration.
On Tuesday, January 20th, there were 5 of us going to the Inauguration from our household. We got up around 5:30 a.m. We packed lunches because we knew we would walk long distances and would be in the Mall area all day. The crowds were ENORMOUS, and the transit and metro systems were going to be incapacitated for hours. Finally, we were on our way. When we boarded the train we planned to stop at a street as close as possible to the Mall. Unfortunately, after boarding the train we were taken to the Pentagon, which was extremely out of the way. Upon leaving the train we caught a shuttle bus to the Mall. Once in the area we began the long walk. We walked for blocks, which turned into miles before we actually entered the Mall, and once we were there we pushed our way through the crowd. But we were still 15 blocks away from the Capitol building, and we couldn’t go any further. There were people in all directions as we pressed up against each other, as close as a crowd of people could possibly get. All we could do was stand there.
Finally when I got to a stopping point I looked around me and I noticed that there were all types of people in my immediate vicinity. There were people from the various Islands (Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, The Bahamas), and from other countries like Liberia, South Africa, and Nigeria. There were also a few Australians. All the conversations were filled with excitement and disbelief. Most people discussed how we could assure that Obama would be successful and how excited they were to witness his inauguration. So for hours we waited and watched all the dignitaries come on stage. A high point in the inauguration was Aretha Franklin singing “America, the Beautiful” and the diversity of the musicians who performed the classical selection.
Now, it was Barack Obama’s turn to be sworn in. As Barack came forward I remember feeling this huge lump in my throat, and tears rolling down my cheeks even before he repeated his oath. Once I heard the Chief Justice say, “So Help Me God,” and after Obama repeated it and we all realized that he was finally the 44th president of the United States of America, the crowd broke out in pandemonium. Flags with Barack Obama’s picture on it were being waved all over the place. All you could hear was people screaming “O-bam-a!!! O- bam-a!!!” However, I noticed even in all of the excitement and disbelief, we breathed a sigh of relief. President Obama had been sworn into office without there being any sort of mishap. Then it hit me, “O God, it was going to be a long walk home.”
Kyndra: On Tuesday, January 20th around 9:30 a.m. we all pressed our way onto the Mall to gather in the cold with our brothers and sisters from diverse faiths, ethnicities, nationalities, and ages. There were mothers and fathers carrying babies and elders walking on canes. There were people standing in trees and on top of port-a-potties and buildings. As the various politicians were marshaled on stage, there were many people with wide smiles and tear-soaked cheeks, waiting for Barack to take his rightful place. Although I did not know anyone around me (I was separated from the people I came with, due to the size of the crowd), we all spoke as if we had known each other for years. We leaned on one another, offering each other whatever we had to eat, or drink, to stay warm.
One thing I will remember distinctly about this day is Rick Warren’s initiation of the Lord’s Prayer, and hearing the crowd join in as my heart simultaneously filled with warmth and my eyes with tears of joy and disbelief. I could not help but think, “I am really here.” The next thing I knew I was received by a middle-aged African-American male saying, “Happy 44th!” as if it were a national holiday, like Happy New Year or Happy 4th of July. If holidays represent cycles in our lived experiences that celebrate our liberties, commemorate things we hold dear, and usher in gifts beyond realization, then this, my friends, marks what felt like a national holiday not only for Americans, but for the entire world. YES WE DID AND THE MOMENTUM CANNOT STOP HERE!