Since waking up yesterday and turning on the first coverage of the Presidential Inauguration, I have been virtually speechless, searching for the words to speak…write. I have struggled with a way to being this, and within the last two minutes four words came to me that epitomize all of my feelings: overwhelmed, joyous, happy, exited…
Yesterday I was inspired….
Yesterday I fought back tears as I watched a Black man become America’s first Black President, even before the actual swearing in. I cheered, clapped, and hugged my family as I watched not just the Black choice, but America’s choice, become the 44th President of the United States of American. It has been a long time coming.
On January 20th, 2009, the United States felt the weight of history being lifted from the backs of Blacks like shackles being loosed from the bodies of slaves. I watched as more than two million people of all colors stand on their feet in freezing weather to cheer on a man in which who’s hands they have placed their trust and faith. I will be able to share with my children stories of how history was made; just like my grandparents shared stories of the Jim Crow South with my parents; and how their parents before them shared stories of slavery.
Since before the abolition of slavery in 1865, Black Americans have lived with a tremendous burden on their shoulders that most feared would never be lifted. Even 100 years later, following the Voting Rights Act, Blacks everywhere were still disenfranchised and discouraged when it came to voting. At that time Blacks everywhere held onto the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which resounded a message of affirmation and patience. You see, Dr. King knew we would get to the Promised Land…eventually. He was content with not making it there himself, as he knew no matter what, his fight, his preaching, his prayers would prove to be worth the struggle.
Yesterday, Blacks from all walks of life sang in united praise because they feel their prayers are finally being answered; and they began to wake up from what was before viewed as Dr. King’s “pipe” dream. I think Poet Elizabeth Alexander said it best in her inaugural poem:
Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day.
Obama’s speech was very powerful, and painted a sobering reality for me. It was not full of the usual “pomp and circumstance” that I would imagine a lot of other speeches have contatined. It created a picture of an America with very real problems:
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.
We are in for a fight…and it’s a fight that will not be easy. As President Obama has stated many times before, things will get harder before they get better. They will, nonetheless, get better. And just like Dr. King, President Obama has been to that same mountaintop, and he has also seen the Promised Land. As he further stated in his inaugural address, we as Americans have chosen “…hope over fear, and unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
Black people!!! Don’t get it twisted!! This is not the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, and we have in no way “arrived.” With great power comes great responsibility, and I feel that responsibility rests on all of our shoulders, not just our new President. WE HAVE GOT TO BE BETTER!! We have to take advantage of the education opportunities we do have!! Our elders have fought much too hard for our right to that education. We have got to realize that there are other options available for us besides rapping, basketball, and football (no offense to my rapper or athlete friends!). It is official now, that when a yong Black child hears “you can be anything you want”, they can truly believe it with all of their heart!! I am going to steal something Barack said and apply it to us:
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
This means we have to WORK!! We have to stand on our own two feet, with upright backs. As Dr. King said, “Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can not ride your back unless it is bent.” We have to continue believing, because soon we will reach that Promised Land. We can do anything as a people, and we must do everything we can as responsible citizens and powerful Black men and women if we are going to reach that place. We as Black people must reach that point where “…..we are ready to lead once more”.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light. - Elizabeth Alexander