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THE DAY THAT CHANGED A NATION by Andrea Blackstone
THE DAY THAT CHANGED A NATION By Andrea Blackstone
Click here to view beautiful pictures that give you an idea of the day Andrea describes in her story.
In the wee hours of a quiet, still morning, I ascended into the darkness, headed for a minivan. The license plate was adorned with an Atlanta tag. One by one, my inaugural guests and I inhaled chilly air, headed to witness President Obama’s big day. A dramatic break from the status quo, we were among many who vowed that watching history unfold in person was a worthy premise. Some drove, while others flew and rode trains to Washington, DC. In fact, some headed toward the place where a snapshot of American history would be taken, without accommodations, or even a cushion of an adequate budget. More than a few travelers were stranded in airports, their funds depleted, but their hearts hopeful that a kind stranger would take them in.
Various websites were loaded with pleas of travelers seeking to crash on anyone’s living room floor or couch, so long as they could walk to a metro station, or walk to various events. “Fifty dollars a night is all that I can afford,” some wrote. Messages that echoed the state of a battered economy were tucked within the masses of renters who paid thousands of dollars per night, to rent homes and apartments. Believers felt a sense of urgency to witness history, for various reasons. Some had been hit hard by the economy, and they wanted to catch a glimpse of President Obama— the man who vowed that he would employ various strategies to try and change things for the better.
Americans from a variety of states regarded their trip as an investment in hope. Others wanted their children to have something memorable to hold dear in their hearts. Regardless, everyone who wanted to be in attendance proved eager to soak up the aura of change. Change had come, despite whose side anyone was on. The most coveted position in America would soon belong to an African-American man, who ironically, is often stereotyped and feared the most. An unlikely story unfolded, after harsh criticism and personal attacks forced destiny to the surface. Naysayer’s remarks clashed with supporters claims who insisted that President Obama would score big, but that’s the nature of politics. After a tough political race, the end of a new beginning had come. Despite conflicting theories, the inauguration would close one chapter, as another began.
A renewed alliance led a host of individuals to a common destination. After toting blankets and cameras, my guests and I were amongst the ranks of them. We stuffed our bags into cracks and crevices, not being deterred by the bitter cold. On January 20, 2009, we left all of our problems behind. After all, no one brings problems to a party—especially a party like this. Mrs. L., the driver, cranked a festive Bob Marley tune. She began to sway from side to side, eager to witness the day that would change a nation. A down home woman who greeted me with a hug, meeting her felt like I’d been reunited with an old friend, not like I was encountering a complete stranger. “Once I hear my music, I’ll be all right,” she remarked with a sincere smile. With a close friend and daughter in tow, the light within her shone.
Despite enduring a long, tiring trip, no complaints were evident from any of them. The ring leader of sorts, Mrs. L. is the epitome of determination. “I had to be here,” she told me. Everything she said and did proved her loyalty to those five words. New to the DC scene, she located her Obama hat, pulling it on top of her head, to keep warm. Anything she could gather to savor the memory of her trip, she put it away for safe keeping, as did each of my guests who taught me something new about investing in hope and tolerance. By the next day, conversations grew personal. Our diverse worlds fused and merged, during an odd catharsis of sorts.
While sitting at my kitchen table, new bonds were created through one dream that came to fruition. Who would’ve ever thought that any of us would witness a remarkable piece of history take shape in this lifetime? Many stated that America wasn’t ready to take such a big step. The step that was taken was more like a leap, but the number of people who voted for our newly elected president proved skeptical theories wrong. Honestly, President Obama brought something fresh to the table. It’s now cool to be smart again, and it’s also fashionable to love your family, and actually seem like you’re still madly in love with a person you married. It’s chic to serve together, and apparently, working for the government has become a highly desirable career path for many. Various indications prove that President Obama’s outlook is infectious. Still a young man, he has the ability to pull people together in a remarkable way. His background as a former community organizer was once mocked, but seemingly, it’s becoming one of his strong points. The serious nature of America’s crisis is now obvious, and his administration is not sweeping the truth under the rug. Now people are talking about what can happen next, and what they fear and face today. All over the nation, discussions are blossoming, as most of us crave a real solution. Even before people departed to return home, the strain of holding on to survive was a hot topic, behind some closed doors.
In my private space, a candid discussion took shape, as my guests and I shared our first meal together. Across the table, a nineteen volunteer sat, expressing her take on what happened during our President’s quest, from another vantage point. B. volunteered to work for Obama’s team, without pay, for nearly a year and a half. Her commitment to the cause had both social and moral implications. She spoke of trials and tribulations, but regret was not on her tongue. When her side won, where would the volunteer lay her head? Ironically, that plight was shared by many who stood firm, in the name of the cause. “I’ll sleep in my car,“ she told me through email. “Don’t worry about the money. I’ll sponsor you,” I told her after we spoke on the phone. I could relate to student status, and I could relate to being headstrong and fearless, even if no one would help me. I was that way once.
In a sense, I still have my moments of passion superseding practicality. I felt morally inclined to respond to someone who helped to make something good happen. After she shared her stories of meeting voters, passing up sleep, and even putting an entire college semester on hold to work for the campaign, I knew that I’d made the right decision, despite my own personal fears. I secretly wondered if she would reject my invitation, calling someone to pick her up and stay elsewhere, after meeting me in person. As a person of color, I’ve had my share of painful experiences. Nevertheless, I’ve had good ones too. Reaching out to contribute in my small way proved to be healing for me in more ways than one. Meeting a determined young woman renewed my hunger for vision. Even when no one around her believed in what she was doing, B. showed them that she wouldn’t relent.
That’s the spirit that countless college students and other Americans brought to this election. They wanted to have a stake in building a better country, and they stepped up to the plate to do it. By the end of the journey, some of the most unlikely people in B’s life expressed their pride in her commitment to serve, and stand for what she believed in. If we pay close attention, we stand to learn quite a bit from each other. In my opinion, that’s what too many who share this space had forgotten through living in cliques and comfort zones. Those of us who lived an inclusive life were often chided with jeers. Hopefully, this entire event will renew a sense of tolerance that will span wide and deep. The time is now, not later. Clearly, enough Americans have reached a consensus that race doesn’t have to matter. The work that needs to be completed should be of paramount importance.
As we munched on dinner chocolate, and shared experiences of what living in America had had done to us along the way, each of us had a different spin on living. Representing various races and ages, we opened our hearts, letting truth pour, drop by drop, story by story. Each perspective was respected, and each story was embraced by listening ears. What is it like being biracial in America? What is it like being discriminated against in halls of higher education? What is it like suffering under the weight of social injustice? What is it like being a recent immigrant? What is like being born with dark skin? What is it like being young, white , and liberal in America, when many around you have historically espoused exclusion? What does reverse discrimination look like? What happens when the wrong people enjoy the right resources? What is it like being an unemployed college graduate?
As hours passed, candor faced us and made one thing clear. President Obama’s big day had a hand in bringing people together—people who never would’ve met, most likely. My guests found their way to various events, from putting Care packages together for the troops, to the mother of events. They embodied the sentiment that Americans want to become active in their government again. Our president’s victory marks a chance to move beyond race, but it also marks a chance to move beyond apathy, too.
My guests and I sang Stir It Up, headed down a hill, metro bound. We made a pit stop at 7-11, loading up on cash and snacks. As tight fisted as I can be, even I felt moved to splurge just a little. I withdrew enough to grab up Obama gear, in our travels. In my eyes, it was a part of my recovery. Racism played a hand in me leaving law school, but this time, I felt like race didn’t matter, for once. Four o’clock in the morning never felt like that before. There was a shift in attitude and in outlook. On countless occasions, I swiped my Smart Trip card at that very same metro stop, never feeling happy that the lot was filling quickly. To me, every car, every face, and every step taken toward the U.S. Capitol helped to seal America’s wounds. Those wounds were once open, with no immediate healing evident.
Through past eras and stands taken by activists and every day citizens, tributes to the cause were celebrated through Supreme Court rulings, and new laws being established. Still, the end result of blood, sweat, and tears never seemed to be enough. Racism still stung. It still hurt, but many conservatives grew weary of hearing chronicles of slavery and injustice. In some cases, stereotypes evolved into insidious acts of disgust. How dare African-Americans examine old wounds. After all, those wounds were old, and no one living created them. A mixed reaction to what it means to be black in America, damage ran deep. It was wrong to blame ancestors of slave owners, and it proved to be equally wrong to skip a painful aspect of American history. How could both sides meet in the middle? Race relations have been a tender spot too painful to touch without pausing for reprieve.
As my guests and I rode the escalator upward, we stood amongst many. Every race was represented, and every situation was apparent. After reaching the street level of a DC corner, droves of people began walking with glove-topped hands, and scarves wrapped around their necks. I spotted a woman in a wheelchair, wheeling alongside of the pack. The closer we got to The Mall, the more I fought back the tears. I pondered the future of our country, and I also considered the monumental importance of the day that would change our nation. School children sang, while others huddled together in blankets. When daylight came, I even witnessed a group of friends and strangers doing the Electric Slide, to keep warm. Barely able to endure the cold myself, I dialed my father’s number with a blanket over my head. “I’m here, Dad,” I said. “If my father was alive, nothing could keep him away. He’d be there, too,” my dad explained. My grandfather died long before I was even born. Through stories of a small segregated small town called Annapolis, I learned about my father’s parents, neither of which I’ve never known. My grandfather was a janitor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and his wife was a maid for wealthy whites in town.
After I ended the call, my mind ran through a long list of ancestors on both sides of my family tree. In particular, I also wondered what my mother would say, but especially my great-grandmother. A former slave of several races, how would Queen feel knowing that America had come this far? My mother shared stories about this woman. Queen often ran away, in her old age, still thinking that slave masters were trying to find her to take her back to the plantation. Rejected by both the black and white world, at some point in life, I knew that she would be particularly proud of our president who appears black, but who shares a mixed heritage. Stuck in a fluid dream, I endured the cold, while awaiting restoration. Part of that is because of what I’ve felt over time, while the other aspect has everything to do with my ancestors who knew America in another place and another time.
Despite the best of intentions, everyone couldn’t brave the cold. Many ended up taking trips to a tent designated for medical emergencies. Even within snafus that mounted, strangers unified to help each other. “Miss, can I trust you with this?” a woman asked, decked out in a fur. I stood next to her on the steps of The Smithsonian. She dug in her purse, looking for anything to write a note explaining that someone needed help. A young woman with sickle cell anemia needed warmth very badly. Everyone around her pitched in to alert anyone who would listen. Upon returning the woman's wallet, I grabbed one of my guests, wrapped in blankets. She too had been out in the cold too long. Beginning her journey at two A.M., her body relented. With heavy eyes, I pulled her through the crowd, as we headed back to my place. After warming her up, and making her lunch, we watched our 44th president take his oath.
The star-studded balls followed, and we watched that too. When everyone converged, we shared our experiences of the day. B. ended up in a seated section, compliments of a festive stranger, the night before. Mrs. L. ended up talking to the press. My guests ended up being captured on Getty Images. We sat on my couch, pointing out each one. With smiling faces, they celebrated at the concert. By nightfall, I received a few texts. “It’s official!” one read. Another remarked that it’s a new day, and that it is.
Above all, we are closing a divide, and that divide was once painful. The American dream was once an oxymoron for many of people of color, but now, vision has been restored. With rested eyes, many may seriously consider that what appeared impossible is now possible. In a sense, to be black in America should mean the same as it does to be white in America. We all are equal. It is wrong to discriminate against anyone. Blacks have endured unfair treatment, but the street does go both ways. Some have unjustly drawn conclusions about white brothers and sisters, too. As people confess their fears, it’s time to be fair and acknowledge that people of all creeds and colors brought us to this new day. We all are members of a grand community, and America’s obsession with race should no longer be an ugly reality. America is indeed a melting pot. If we stay focused, those of us who believe that everyone should be judged as individuals can rise above those who refuse to unclench their fists, letting go of antiquated strongholds.
President Obama’s election marks another installment of American history. In this chapter, many repeat the mantra, “Yes We Can.” He is encouraging us to join forces to help mend what is broken, by contributing to our respective communities. He can’t rebuild America alone. Now that the party is over, the streets have been cleaned, and people have returned to their respective homes, what will each of us do to honor the day that changed this nation? In my opinion, that’s the defining question. For progress to truly make a lasting impression, it must be consistent. Despite t his victory, America still has a mighty long way to go. The bright spot within all of this is that we still have hope.
Andrea Blackstone was born in Long Island, New York, and moved to Annapolis, Maryland at the age of two. She majored in English and minored in Spanish at Morgan State University. While attending Morgan, she received many recommendations to consider a career in writing and was the recipient of The Zora Neale Hurston Scholarship Award.
After a two-year stint in law school, she later changed her career path. While recovering from an illness, she earned an M.A. from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland ahead of schedule and with honors. Afterward, Andrea became frustrated with her inability to find an entry-level job in journalism and considered returning to law school.
Jotting down notes on restaurant napkins and scraps of paper became a habit that she couldn't shake. In 2003, she grew tired of waiting for her first professional break and decided to create Dream Weaver Press. A short time later she self-published Schemin': Confessions of a Gold Digger, and the sequel, Short Changed.
Andrea is also a finalist in Chicken Soup for the African-American Woman's Soul , and some of her original work will also be included in an upcoming urban fiction anthology. A lover of all genres and outrageous characters, Andrea aspires to write a wide array of stories. Her work will range from inspirational nonfiction to unconventional plots written under one of many pseudonyms.
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