President Barack Obama does not dress up or down an issue. Not even yesterday's historic inaugural ceremonies and festivities compelled him to give feel-good remarks in his inaugural address that was, as his daughter Malia said, "First African-American President, better be good."
It surpassed good. And though after he was sworn in as the 44th commander-in-chief, President Obama captured the reality of these somber times in his inaugural address, he also spoke of the promise of the possibilities that America is known for. These are perilous times, he said, but because America has confronted difficult times before, he inspired us to hold onto hope as well.
I was not in Washington yesterday when throngs of Americans swooped down on the capital. But I was there in spirit with relatives, friends, colleagues, and others who wanted to be present to witness an occasion that many thought would not come in our lifetimes. The historic event was five days after what would have been the 80th birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the slain civil rights leader who has come to embody four centuries of struggles of a people and for whom a federal holiday was observed on Monday.
I watched it all with my husband and mother, who received calls from my siblings and some of her grandchildren. "I'm 78 years old and I never thought I'd see this. It's a blessing. I don't want to start crying," she told a grandson.
I didn't get as emotional as I thought I would, but it was overwhelming to watch Mr. Obama with his hand on the Bible that belonged to Abraham Lincoln, who helped make yesterday possible. Though I believe that God chooses leaders, it was not until recently that I understood why this country had to endure the presidential leadership of the last eight years: It was to prepare us for this time, this man, at this moment in our history.
And though President Obama cannot walk on water, hopes are still high. Who would have believed that an obscure Illinois politician who busted onto the national scene a little more than four years ago would win the admiration of millions of every color and would give us more reason to hope in the darkness? It is enough to make the most humble person swell with pride.
Nevertheless, for all our sakes, President Obama must remain humble. True, he knows his job will be tough and that he will make mistakes. When he does, he will incur the wrath of the press and armchair detractors. Many expect President Obama to do well. If that were not so, he wouldn't have won the election, and many wouldn't have traveled to the capital to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event.
President Obama defied slavery, which held that blacks were only good enough to plow, plant, and pick fields, and to cook, sew, clean. He defied the bell curve, which maintains that blacks are incapable of academic or intellectual performance. He and First Lady Michelle Obama and their darling daughters, Malia and Sasha, prove that not all blacks fit black stereotypes.
Nevertheless, racial unfairness hasn't disappeared either. True, it has subsided some, given the diverse groups who support the President. If the racial hatred in one person's heart has subsided, then this has been worth it.
While injustices must be addressed, knowing that the Obamas occupy the White House might make confronting or bearing unfairness a little easier for those who endure it, although it will certainly make those who impose it that much more determined.
This has been exciting, but now it's time to join President Obama to get America back on track. After years of gloom and doom and the strain of these last few months, we need to enjoy this euphoria and hope of pending change for the better.
Improvements won't come easily or soon. The war won't end and the economy won't turn around tomorrow. The unemployed may not be back to work and the uninsured may not have health care next week. Our other woes won't be diminish by next month - or next year. But as long as we're moving in the right direction, the challenges ahead will be a cinch compared to what we've been through.
Many believe God's hand has been on President Obama from his birth. His parents and upbringing shaped his sensitivity to those less fortunate, who are different, and who come from nontraditional families. His background not only directly touches two races, but other continents. He has helped all of us realize that it is true that this is not merely an America of one group or another, but, as he has often said, it is "the United States of America."
Many seem willing to take up whatever charge he will ask.
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again to do the work of remaking America," President Obama told millions yesterday.
Let's do, Mr. President, let's do.
Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.
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