"Woke up this morning, with a smile on my face"
(The Way - Jill Scott: Who Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1)
Last Tuesday morning, I did exactly that. I grinned a toothy smile from ear to ear in hungry anticipation for what I considered the most astounding event of my lifetime and in the history of America:
The inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.
I can recall as a youngster my grandfather's die-hard civil rights fanaticism and the mark it imparted on my life. I was instructed to always be proud of my ethnicity and understand our history no matter how embarrassing or difficult it felt when infrequently taught in school. An attendee of the March on Washington, my grandfather felt our race was the most prominent aspect of our appearance and strived to instill an extraordinary sense of decency and decorum. Consequently, I harbor an extremely profound sense of pride for my people (even when they annoy me) and carry myself as honorably as possible.
So it comes with no surprise that I believe my vote for Barack Obama, like the vote of most African-Americans, carried with it the spirit of my grandfather's vote as well as the weight of my ancestors extending back to Africa. Furthermore, many African-American individuals stated that they voted based not upon race but on the issues facing contemporary America.
Nevertheless, the emotional factor that determined my vote runs exceedingly deep. It is something that many of my white friends and colleagues cannot possibly comprehend. Consequently, watching the fulfillment of that vote, that dream of an African American president, simply took my breath away.
I sat in the kitchen with my parents, Java-Mama and Pops and while we joked and commented throughout many of the pre-inaugural happenings (i.e. outrageous outfits, who was thinking what, the event running on CP time, etc.), silence rapidly descended during the oath of office and throughout Obama's inaugural address. I glanced over to catch my mother tenderly dabbing at the corners of her eyes and Pops looking on in quiet satisfaction, his mind flashing back to days when this event would have been nothing more than a pipe dream.
They came of age during the Civil Rights era, watching evening news reports displaying pictures of beaten protestors, sprayed with hoses and attacked by dogs. They experienced the void in our community with the deaths of the great Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. And my father, who was raised in the substantially racially charged state of Mississippi during the 1940's, felt the sting of injustice and discrimination at segregated schools and restaurants.
Yes, I've had it good but only because of their generation and the many before them, who fought to bestow this upon me. I've been fortunate enough to attend top schools, experience diversity among my social circle and never remain confined to the back of a public bus.
This inauguration meant so much to young and old alike in our community. And as I watched Barack and Michelle walk the streets of D.C., I felt an enormous swelling of dignity and wished my grandparents had lived to witness this day.
Reality has set in. The time for celebration has passed and Obama is hard at work. Will his presidency mimic his predecessor or will he outshine the administrations of some of our most esteemed presidents? History will be the arbitrator of that question. Does his achievement signal the end of racism and discrimination for blacks and other minorities in America? Perhaps. The fight for equality is not over by a long shot. There will still be a hate crime somewhere, sometime before the fulfillment of his first week. However, we must stay true to Obama's message: "...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."
That night, as I sat at my desk at work, extremely focused and on cloud nine, I listened to the song "Changes" from the late Tupac Shakur on the radio. And as the line, "we ain't ready to see a black president" was uttered, I simply smirked to myself in deep amazement.
Dedicated to my grandfather ...
"Hey Grandpa, we did it!"