Tuesday evening, January 20th, 2009 the air was electric with national pride. Barack Obama had been sworn in as President of the United States earlier that day and now galas, dances and dinners were honoring the historic event across the country.
Over two hundred and fifty African immigrants and their friends and co-workers congregated at Casablanca Restaurant in Minneapolis, appropriately as Casablanca is Spanish for White House. The festive evening, hosted by Mshale and its partners Áccents Telecom and Casablanca Restaurant offered speakers, dinner, and music.
Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis, co-chair of the Obama campaign in Minnesota, spoke to the audience from Washington, D.C. via telephone and broadcast over the public address system. As people filled in their seats, prayers by a Somali Imam, Sheikh Saad Mussa were offered followed by prayers from a Reverend Joe Nelson of the Liberian Ministerial Association.
Projected on a large screen onstage, gatherers watched President Obama and his wife, Michelle, dance at one of several balls held in Washington, D.C. while footage simultaneously aired of Martin Luther King marching on the Washington streets.
Interspersed with the action was a replaying of Obama’s inauguration speech and King’s “I Have a Dream” declaration exhorting the nation to seek success and rise above its current conflicts and obstacles. Fatma Jibrell, founder of Horn Relief, an international humanitarian organization based in Nairobi, then took the stage and spoke with conviction as well.
Jibrell recounted her entry into the United States, telling of how, upon seeing placards at Ellis Island directing various groups of people to one location or another, she strode over to the sign that read “Negroe” and crossed it off, replacing the word with “African.” Her father, later trying to placate Jibrell, told her that Negroe was a Clan name in America.
Jibrell urged her audience to take advantage of opportunities. “Be literate! You can not be an illiterate parent in America,” she stated. She also warned against becoming comfortable with welfare, seeing such assistance as “poison.”
“Let’s put our children in the White House!” Jibrell proclaimed to a receptive and upbeat crowd.
After a dinner with entrée choices that included tilapia with mango salsa, music started up as the crowd continued celebrating.