Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What being in DC meant to me: To BHO, With Love

(This is where I will write at length
about my singular experience
in a globally communal moment
of history.

There won't be any stories
of balls and parties and
making power connections.

I did not experience that.

I will, however, reflect on
my mere presence
at the Capital
during one of our most cherished
collective moments.)

~The experience of a bonafide HOPEMONGER

I was up before the sun on the morning of January 20th. Like most of the residents and visitors of the District, I could feel the monumental magic of the day brewing, and laying around in bed trying to squeeze in a few extra minutes wasn't an option Tuesday morning. I'd only gone to sleep about three hours prior to receiving a text message from NJOB aka NateJones asking if I was up already. I wasn't, but the moment my eyes sprang open, my heart was racing and it was all I could think about to get ready to get out! I already knew Ro and his family weren't planning to be up super early; they planned to be out of the house between 8:30a and 9am. That wasn't gonna cut it for me though. So I jumped in the shower, threw on a few layers of clothes, grabbed a little something to eat so my tummy wouldn't be completely empty, and was out the door within 40mins of waking up! Ro just happened to stir a bit to check his phone, and so he let me out and pointed me in the direction I needed to go to reach the Capital by foot. I left his house on NE E Street and busted a left on Maryland Ave where I could see hundreds of people already making their way towards the Capital. And those who weren't making their way yet were out in their yards selling tea and coffee to inauguration-goers. As I walked I texted and called a few people (cousins and friends), but I wasn't able to reach anyone but a friend in Cali who was on his way to bed since it was close to 4AM PST! We exchanged a couple of exciting text messages then he said GOODNIGHT! Hahahah... So of course I called to bug my mom! I was walking to the Capital on the morning of Barack Hussein Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of these United States, and I needed to talk to someone! I eventually left her to get a little rest as well, so I could pay attention to where I was headed, because other than knowing I wanted to be in the area of the Capital for the Inauguration, I didn't know where I was going to end up!!

My adrenaline was so high as I walked that I kept taking my gloves off and loosening my neck scarf so that I could get some cool air on my skin! I'd later realize just how frigidly cold it was and wish I'd had on some thicker gloves, socks and boots, but not as I was walking! There were SOOO MANY PEOPLE! I mean, it seemed like Woodstock, or the great exodus, or even a Hajj pilgrimage when I saw that sea of people! It was quite moving, to tell the truth. And actually, I'm surprised at how easy it was to move about throughout the crowd. I mean, once I got into the flow of people that I determined to be "Ticketless/General Admission", I just kept moving forward. Of course, I was praying along my journey, especially as I approached the Capital because I literally didn't have a clue as to where I was going, the mall or the parade route? or if I'd be somewhere where there were big screens and speakers? or if I'd run into anyone I'd know? OR if I'd feel like, "This is waayyy too much, I want to turn around and find someplace inside to chill and watch this!" To tell the truth, I had a bit of anxiety about that last "or" because I really wasn't sure how I'd feel about being in the middle of thousands of people without an easy escape if I wanted to go inside. But after I prayed "Lord, which way to go????" I just kept following a particular sea of folks around corners and through road/sidewalk blockades, between buildings, and around more corners down past the Smithsonian, til I finally realized that I had meandered with a few thousand people right onto the National Mall!!! I mean, by the time I got there, I still wasn't quite sure that this was where I needed to stop or keep moving forward, but when I noticed the big screen and speakers and realized that I could see and hear everything really well I decided to stay PUT! So I did my whole "Scuse'me/Pardon'me" routine until I found a comfortable spot, and that was it! It was sometime in the 7:00 hour on the morning of Inauguration, and I was in position to witness history unfold! And by then, boy was I COLD! (Cold chillin for the next five hours!!!)

Once on the mall, it really dawned on me that I was out there amongst, if not millions by that point then THOUSANDS of people, by myself to stand and wait and witness the whole event. It didn't bother me though, but as I looked around I noticed the couples hugged up and families cheering, church groups and lodges, HS classes and children with grandparents, basically every variation of community that had come to share this experience together. Because I hadn't reached any of my cousins or friends by that point (well I reached one who was en route, but I knew we wouldn't be hooking up out there), I accepted that it'd be a singular experience I'd revel in that day, as opposed to a shared one like most others. Although it was apparent that you should experience this type of historically monumental event with a loved one, it was extremely meaningful to have an introspective, almost reverent feel in the moment as well. I later spoke with a friend who was so stressed with hosting friends and attending parties that he said he wishes he'd had a moment to be introspective about what was taking place. I loved that as I looked around, America's diversity was so apparent and united. It's easy for some to forget that the country is not just Black, White, Latino and Asian English speakers, but that we are a country of natives, citizens, and immigrants from every ethnic background that God has created. We all call this place home, and we were all standing there on Tuesday. That's one of the many reasons why I love Barack: *EVERYONE loves him. Everyone supports him. Everyone is comfortable with his presence, leadership, intelligence and humanity. Everyone can see a bit of who they are and who they aspire to be in Barack. It's like the end of the film Malcolm X where all the kids around the world were like "I AM MAL-COLM X!" And so, the WHOLE world (that's in God's hand) was represented on that mall like "I AM OBAMA!" And there I was standing in the middle of it, taking it all in via my Cannon D60. (pics to come!)

This is what I also found amazing: The flags. All those little American flags waving about. I mean, I'm used to seeing the American flag, of course. BUT I'm not used to seeing thousands of people, black people especially, proudly waving the good ole red, white & blue victoriously in the air. Living in NYC, it's common to see all kinds of Caribbean, African and other national flags of countries being waved around cause folks rep their homeland HARD! They wave their flags hard, they decorate their cars and homes with it, wear it as a garment or around their head as a bandanna, get it tattooed on their arm or chest, airbrushed on their nails, cut into a fade or WHATEVER they want to do to represent because THAT flag means something to them and who they are/where they've come from in this world. You get used to seeing some American Blacks with the Red/Black/Green flag, or if not the flag then the wristband, because they feel a African diasporal/heritage connection to the RGB. BUT NOT the standard United States of America flag itself. I see the American flag in front of federal buildings and on college campuses, waving from corporate businesses; you'll see it hanging from certain houses in the suburbs or down south somewhere, you see it with military personnel and police departments, but you (or rather I) don't see black people repping hard with the Red White & Blue. So, it was a bit surreal just to see people gung-ho and crazy with it! I mean, I never really grabbed one for myself, but I did find it a lovely sight, all the same. So! Barack got people embracing the stars and stripes AND feeling comfortable with, perhaps for the first time in many young (and older) people's lives, feeling like they want to say "MY president" (as appose to "THE president").

Hey Media, could THIS be what Michelle Obama was referring to when she said, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country. Because it feels like hope is making a comeback”??? I think it is!!! And, to tell the truth, it's a beautiful thing. Very beautiful.

*By "Everyone" I mean the Majority of forward thinking, or even semi-, quasi-, marginally-forwarding thinking individuals.


Kokugaijin said...

Great anecdote. Reminds me of my experience at the MMM on 10/16/95...also, I agree--the feeling of inclusion and the embrace of the red, white and blue at this moment, particularly amongst brown people, seems unprecedented in recent history.

Karen Mingo-Campbell said...

Mai, I enjoyed reading your story. I also had a planned singular experience, at home, and it was great. Keep up your good work.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lady,

I am so glad that you were able to experience this great part of American history. I say American history because, in all of the world, we are truly unique.

There are great and note worthy people in our Black American history. There are people like Fredrick Douglas, Sojourna Truth, Harriet Tubman,W.E.B. DuBois, A. Phillip Randolph, Booker T. Washington, Martin, Malcom, Huey, Stokley and so many others.

But, I tend to think of this being my country, your country and every other black American's country because of the thousands upon thousands of Black people who built this country; because of the thousands upon thousands of Black people whose blood was shed for this country. The inventions and contributions of Black people to the growth of this country. We paid an extremely high price for this country to be THIS COUNTRY.

I think of your personal history in this country. Albert and Georgia Erby, your mother's parents, who left the Arkansas cotton fields and came to California. He worked three jobs and she cleaned white folks houses so that they could send 7 children children to college. Your mother, who decided to become a teacher so that she could contribute to the growth children in the community.

There was Amy Perkins, your great grand mother, who fought off the white land owner that she worked for when he tried to rape her. When she fought and got away, he shot her in the back of the head with a shot gun and killed her. The local law in Texas ruled her death a suicide. She died fighting for her life.

Your great great grandfather, Henry Richardson, stood up for himself when they tried to lynch him in Texas. Others said that he never did bow and he never did kneel. They say that he told the white men that he knew that they would kill him but, at least one of them would die with him. Before they killed him, he killed one of them. He died fighting for his life.

Frances "Chick" Burroughs, your great great grand mother, Henry's wife, did many wonderful things to help her family, including teaching me to read before I started school. Your great grand mother, America Brown, was an adventuress, loved to travel, but made sure her children were taken care of.

Betty Jean Richardson (Perkins), your grand mother ( whom you know as grand-grand) brought me, your father, to California in 1946 so that I would not have to grow up in the racism of Texas at the time. She did what she knew to do to protect her child and to provide a better chance at life for him.

I grew during an exciting time. Negroes were becoming Black and beginning in mass to demand the life that we had paid the price for in this country. I was in demonstrations, sit-ins. I debated and encouraged other brothers and sisters to stand up and BE. I challenged whites to wake up and free themselves from the stupidity of racism.

I have seen and experienced so many things that lead to the precious moment of my daughter, you, standing on the White House Mall to be a witness to the swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the first African American President of the United States, our United States of America.

Of course, I am proud of Barack. But, my main pride is in the fact that you had the opportunity to be a part of it. You were there. And with all that this country has gone through, all that Black people have gone through in this country, all that my family, your mother's family has gone through, for you to be free to be there means the world to me.

My daughter at the inauguration: That is the greatest.

Charles Perking said...

In case you couldn't guess who anonymous is, it's me. I hit the wrong identity tag.


Barbara said...

I was so impressed with your "...HOPEMONGER" account of President Barack OBAMA'S Inauguration. The Lord has blessed you with an exceptional ability to express your feeling and experiences. And our prayers were answered covering that event! You traveled to the inauguration, had a lifechanging experience, and returned home without a negative incident. Praise the Lord! But, that 3:45 a.m. call and the subsequent text messages from you on Inauguration Day had me worried, then exhausted! (Smile)