Yesterday, Tuesday, January 20th at 12 noon, over two million people standing in Washington, D.C., billions watching on televisions around the world, millions of viewers through the Internet and many millions more listening to the radio, all bearing witness to the formal Inauguration and Swearing-in Ceremony of Barack Hussein Obama on the steps of the United States Capitol as the 44th President of the United States of America.
Yesterday we were witness to America finally becoming America for all the people and we can see changes all around us. Changes in simple things: A financial question from an Ebony magazine reporter at the president-elect’s press conference. Newscasts where the African-American anchor hands off to the African-American reporter on the mall. More African-American pundits on the talk shows. But change must go deeper than that, and now we are called upon to make changes in our own hearts and minds. That is where shackles remain and that is where they have to be cut away by a new consciousness and belief in a new beginning. As we celebrate, we must remember that we came this way, not by faith alone, but by hard work, sacrifice and personal decisions of courage and vision by the known and the unknown. To make the changes in the dismal statistics in the economic, education, criminal justice, and health care that are needed, it is not by faith that they will be made, but by a duplication of the hard work, persistence and demanding consciousness of those who have contributed to bring us to this place.
When Obama came on the national scene in 2004 with his groundbreaking speech before the Democratic National Convention, the world was still reeling from the aftermath of the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy of 3 years before. By the time he announced his candidacy for President in 2007, coherent voices providing direction and hope for the nation were not to be found; the world was gasping for change. Obama, poised and prepared, was ready to take charge.
President Obama is the first to say he did not get where he is by himself. He followed others: from ancestral community organizers Tubman, Douglass, Brown, Bethune and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to presidential aspirants who dared to scale the walls of power, activist Eldridge Cleaver, comedian Dick Gregory, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, activist Jesse Jackson, Sr. (Democratic presidential nominee in 1984 and 1988), activist Al Sharpton (2004), to warrior spirits behind the scenes, far too many to even begin to list. Then of course there are the everyday lives and organizations for which 2009 is a watershed year.
Around this time some 400 years ago, 11 enslaved Africans sought and secured their freedom and land, the first official organized act of self-Emancipation; 200 years ago in January 1809, The New York Society for Mutual Relief celebrated the first anniversary of the Slave Importation Ban passed by Congress; the NAACP celebrates its 100th year and this week we celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 80th birthday.
What Obama has brought to the world is a milestone in itself. Sharing his limelight are the billions who agreed with him: “Yes we can.” This is not the Age of Obama that the mainstream media would narrow our horizons to, it is the Age of All of Us that is reflected in President Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Yet, while the essence of what they are is spectacular, it is unique only in how the Obamas put a myriad of positive qualities together. Not the least of them is intelligence, decency and commitment, qualities found throughout the ages and in the hearts of people who are builders of children, builders of community and builders of institutions. We offer a few of those people and a few pivotal moments that have contributed to this time in our special edition of Our Time Press on the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States, “Reflections on Excellence.”