Chelsea L. McGowan
It’s 1,300 long miles from Weatherford to Washington, D.C., but the distance isn’t keeping local leaders from talking about the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Jeff Brazell, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said he went so far as to take off work for the day in celebration.
“This is such a huge moment in history ... not just African American history, either,” Brazell said. “This is a moment in American history — period. And I’m taking the day off so I can soak in every moment of it. Emotions will run high throughout the country because it’s the big moment ... To win is one thing, but to be inaugurated is a whole new level.”
It’s a moment many thought would never come, especially those who lived through the horrors of segregated America.
Rev. D.J. Thomas, pastor of New Birth Baptist Church, said he always held out hope he’d see this day.
“I always knew it would happen, that the country would get here eventually,” Thomas said. “But I never dreamed it would happen in my lifetime. I’m 67 years old ... I just didn’t think I’d live to see this.”
Thomas said the inauguration of the nation’s first black president will be the kind of thing history books about the 21st century are hinged upon.
“When I was going to school, the history books about African American history were filled with inventors and freedom fighters,” he said. “The history books of the future will have a special place for what’s happening Tuesday. Nothing will top this in our lifetimes. The first of anything is always something we’ll remember.”
Despite predictions for uninviting weather in D.C., hotels are booked beyond capacity as visitors from all over the world flock to attend the inauguration and other related events.
Brazell said he anticipates the inauguration to be an event of unprecedented proportions, unlike those of presidents past.
“This is going to have a crowd like has never been witnessed before,” he said. “Obama has rock star status right now. How long with that last? We don’t know. But right now, he is completely off the charts when it comes to popularity.”
That’s the question the nation is asking — “how long will it last?”
Brazell said he thinks the “honeymoon” period could last a while, as long as Obama’s administration starts showing significant progress right out of the gate.
“The honeymoon is not going to last very long unless he hits the ground on Jan. 21, and sparks start to fly,” he said. “I have no doubt that things are going to get done, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long it’ll take to get them done. There’s only one Savior, and we know who he is. Barack Obama isn’t going to be able to clear up problems overnight that have taken decades to amass. He’s not a miracle worker, but he has a great team.”
It’s that “great team” Brazell thinks will be instrumental in implementing the changes Obama promised to the nation during his campaign.
“I’ve always said if you surround yourself with quality people you’ll be a success,” he said. “It’s cliche to call it a “Dream Team,” but I think Obama has compiled a cabinet and support structure that is second to none in recent times. A lot of these people we know, some we don’t. But the group of people around him is very diverse, and I think that, in and of itself, will bode well for him coming out of the gates.”
As a younger man, Obama has been criticized for what some have called a lack of experience. But his youthfulness, as well as his being a minority, have helped him connect with a younger generation of Americans.
Thomas said he believes the breaking of the “highest ceiling” will infuse a new fervor into the country’s young people.
“Up until now, when I told young people “the sky’s the limit,” there was always a little reservation in my heart,” he said. “Did I really mean that? Could anyone really be president? Now, I don’t have to be reserved about that. Even to young African American males, now the presidency is a reality. It’s not just something we’re saying. That’s going to be very instrumental in dealing with young people who have a negative outlook on the future.”
The media scrutiny of the Obama administration has already begun and is unlikely to subside.
In the interest of fairness, however, supporters and even some detractors have encouraged analysts to give Obama a chance to work before judging him.
“People need to wait until he completes this first term to give him a report card,” he said. “It’s a new day for the simple reason that we’re seeing the changing of the guard from the Baby Boomer generation. That generation is somewhat riding into the sunset. Obama is more of a Gen X/Gen Y person in his way of thinking than what we’ve been dealing with. People are going to critique him, but it’s just like starting high school — before you make a decision, talk to me in four years when I graduate.”
As with any other new president, Obama is stepping into a new role with the weight of a country on his shoulders. However, many have argued the country is considerably heavier this time around, and that might lead Americans to expect immediate results.
“What kind of president Barack Obama will be, only time will tell,” Thomas said. “He is accepting this position at a time when America has multiple, gigantic problems. The economy, the wars, the gospel and our world-view being challenged at every turn ... I’m glad it’s him and not me. There’s a lot going on. He’s certainly courageous and he’s intelligent, and he’s not afraid of a fight. We have to give him a chance.”
Thomas also admitted, though, he’s worried the criticism of the new administration could take a dangerous turn as violent racism still rears it’s ugly head in America more than many would like to admit.
“I think the Secret Service will be challenged with protecting this president like they’ve never been challenged before,” he said. “There are elements of our society that aren’t overjoyed that an African American was elected, to be sure. There are private citizens who are irate, and I’m concerned for Obama’s safety and the safety of his family. My constant prayer is that God himself will surround the Obamas with his protection.”
Obama ran his campaign under the banner of giving the nation new hope, and Brazell said he feels part of that hope extends to re-establishing a country that’s united.
“Yes, we have the left and the right,” he said. “But in all actuality, are we that much different? We’ve pulled and grabbed at each other until that’s all we do anymore is tear. We’re not solving anything, we’re just constantly complaining about each other. At the end of the day, we’re not that different from each other as a people.”
And most all Americans, regardless of their political persuasion, find it easy to admit the country is ready for a new direction.
Overwhelming voter turnouts, decisive victories and hard-fought struggles have all lead to this day, and Thomas, for one, believes the nation is eagerly awaiting the future.
“The margin of the vote tells me that America desperately wanted this change ... we’re ready for it,” he said. “This is a whole new ball game and we don’t know what’s coming. But I’m excited, I’m encouraged and I’m challenged, and I don’t think I’m alone in those feelings. All of America is holding its breath waiting to see where the next four years take us.”
Chelsea L. McGowan
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