Editor’s Note: This article, while dated, appeared in Mshale’s inauguration print edition.
“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
These were the words that lingered in my mind. As I listened to our
new president Barack Obama deliver his inauguration speech, I held onto
every single word as if they were instructional. I took in each
deliberate pause and every charged statement. And throughout, I thought
to myself, ‘Indeed. This is why we’ve gathered. This is what we’ve
chosen. And from this we may move forward.’
Tuesday January 21, 2009 was a day that no one will ever forget and one that was a long time coming. I made the trip to Washington DC to witness what I consider to be a full circle moment. A moment that America couldn’t fathom 150 years ago, a moment that was dreamed of 45 years ago, and a moment that has finally arrived in 2009. This moment was change. And if the word “change” felt ubiquitous or redundant before, it was clearly defined and renewed on that day; for change lived in the words of our new president and displayed its promise on the faces of all who were watching. Obama expressed …
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
A large portion of remaking America includes the countries and cultures from which it was formed and is sustained today. And it’s this diversity in people and similarity in goals that is truly initiating change. This new presidency isn’t about Democrats or Republicans – this was proven during the campaign trail. It’s about us, the people, who subscribe to more than a political party. It’s about realizing that we have more in common with each other than not.
Inauguration week I witnessed what it really means to come together. Who knew that so many organizations even existed? African Diaspora for Change held an inaugural ball, SNMA [Student National Medical Association] observed our MLK National Day of Service, university alumni associations held social gatherings, and congressional and senatorial leaders welcomed their constituents – just to name a few. Washington DC was filled to the brim with people who strongly support the change that we need – whether they joined the cause at the beginning or embarked recently. The feeling in the air was more than optimism. It was activism. Words are encouraging but actions are firm. And inauguration attendees knew that the words that so many of us hold onto are already coming to life. President Obama continued …
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.”
The morning of inauguration was cold and chaotic, but seeing the faces of so many different people made the journey worthwhile. I saw children anxiously grasping the hands of their parents and elders crying with a remembrance of history in their eyes. I heard the voices of hope and excitement in languages that I could not understand. And while the words were foreign to my ear, the translation was certainly native … change.
America is that promise that we truly are created equal. And America is the notion that toleration is nice, but celebration is even better. Inauguration day we were celebrating who we are individually and who we can be collectively. It was the day that America realized its true potential as a nation and responsibility as a global leader.
And perhaps what is most significant is the reach of these sentiments. While these ideals are rooted in America, they extend like branches internationally. Americans weren’t the only ones watching the inauguration. The world was watching. And they are just as eager to witness the change that’s been discussed for so long.
“For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.”
President Obama reiterated the importance of “being the change.” An estimated 1.8 million people attended inauguration, and undoubtedly millions more watched from their TVs at home, the office, the community center or the local restaurant. As much as we look to Barack Obama, his family and his administration to be the change that this country so very needs, we must also do our part.
These words may seem idealistic but in all honesty, they are realistic. But it’s truly up to all of us to make it so. Inauguration was a time of hope and anticipation, but today is the time for change and action. So what are you going to do?