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Like most Americans, I watched President Barack Obama take the oath of office via TV screen.
But instead of sitting on a sofa or standing around with co-workers in the break room, I stood shivering, shoulder to shoulder with a throng of total strangers just seven blocks away from where Obama placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible and became the first African-American President of the United States of America.
Obama’s inauguration has – as he himself put it – started “a new chapter” in the history of our country. And I was there to witness it.
My wife, Abigail, and I were among a group of 39 people with the Shelbyville/Shelby County NAACP who headed to Washington last Sunday night to attend the 56th inauguration ceremony.
Our assignment was to capture the group’s journey, experiences and emotions – she would take the pictures, and I would write the stories.
It sounded simple enough, but we soon discovered that narrating the importance and the scope of the story was simply beyond words and images.
Though the people who made the journey all had similar reasons for wanting to attend the inauguration, the impact this experience made on each individual is immeasurable.
Many in the group saw in the inauguration of an African-American president as a sign that race relations in the U.S. were truly improving. Some saw in Obama as hope for political and economic change. Others saw him as an inspiration to overcome all of life’s obstacles.
As I interviewed the various people on the bus, I came to have a great appreciation for the hardships that many of them had endured in their lives – living through gross discrimination and racism.
They told me that having Obama in office gave them cause to hope in a brighter future.
Or maybe he simply has given them hope.
The group’s overwhelming feeling of hope in Obama came to a head the day of the inauguration.
As we neared the Capitol Mall with a crowd of thousands, I asked a woman in our group, Linda Manica, how she felt at that moment.
Her response made me tremble.
“You want to know how I feel,” she questioned as she began to cry.
“Yes, I do,” I responded.
“Hallelujah,” she screamed. “Hallelujah.”
A massive chorus of “amens” repeatedly answered her cries from the jubilant crowd.
Despite the bitter cold and the overwhelming masses of people, a sense of joy pervaded everyone.
Their joy turned into exaltation when Obama took the stage.
As I stood watching history unfold in front of me, I felt the ground shake by the applause that erupted from the crowd when they caught glimpse of the new commander and chief, even on that Jumbotron screen.
After Obama’s speech, I saw grown men next to me begin to cry and children start to dance.
From where I stood near the Washington Monument, in every direction there was a was a sea of people full of joy.
Some of us may not embrace Obama's policies on sensitive issues such as abortion and universal healthcare. Differences are a part of the American fabric, after all.
And I saw America that day.
A multicultural, multiethnic hodgepodge of people united around one purpose.
To build a better tomorrow.