The morning of November 4th, 2008 was no normal morning. I rolled out of bed and scrummaged through my laundry hamper for the worn out “McCain” shirt I have touted for the past six months. As I threw it on and raced out the door for school, I anticipated the ridicule I would soon face. I expected criticism from my classmates and a hearty debate from Mr. L, my band teacher. I couldn’t wait.
My anticipation quickly turned sour as all news channels began calling the election for the opponent around 10 p.m. I prepared for three months of defeat waiting for the day he took office.
Well that day soon came, January 20, 2009. I reluctantly turned on Fox News to watch the coverage. I cringed as I saw President Bush leave office, a tired and tested man. As I saw him meet the President-Elect, I couldn’t help but notice the history. Here are two men, who have attacked and persecuted each other for years, now riding in the same limo: one to lead the free world, one to finally rest.
The build up to the inauguration was fun. Many celebrities gathered, and singers sang. The tension was thick though; so many dreams and so much blood all depend on one man, and one moment. As that moment came closer we watched the Vice President take the oath, but peoples’ minds were elsewhere. Then it happened, walking tall and confident, like no man I have ever seen, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama appeared. There were cheers of course, but there were far more tears. I was puzzled by the whole thing, “how can one man inspire millions?” The truth is though; Mr. Obama did not inspire all these people. People are inspired by the idea; the idea that a man of color can finally take that oath after thousands upon thousands have cried – and died, for the very right to eat where they want, or live where they want, or even go to school. The Dream that one man had over 40 years ago somehow, miraculously came true.
As I continued to watch, I was overwhelmed with emotion, for the first time in five years, I shed a tear. A tear for a man I’ll never know, and who will never know my name. A tear for a man that was born of a white woman from Kansas, and a Black scholar from Kenya. Our backgrounds are different, but The Dream is universal. Mr. Obama’s daughter summed it up well when she said, “First African-American President huh,” as they stared at the Lincoln Memorial, “Better be good.”
After it all settled down and I filtered through the many “I told you so!” emails, I started to further analyze the enormity of this event. I just witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from one embattled President, to the first African-American President in our history. Where else in the world does this happen, let alone happen for over two-hundred years? It truly is a rare thing to find. It is all because America is based on an idea. We do not worship a man, a family, or the military. We worship an idea, that all men are created equal. An idea, that if you work hard enough, you can be anything. That no man holds dominion over another, and that all are entitled to give from what they are given. No where else in the world is this sort of event so passively treated. No American wakes in fear that their leader will soon enslave them and retain a dictatorship, because we are above that.
In a time where we are desperate to look to one man who has accomplished so much, I challenge America to look to the people all around you that have overcome similar treacherous odds to make something of themselves. Look to the man who tirelessly toils on an assembly line to provide dinner for his family. Or look to the person who just picked up a second job to fund their daughter’s graduate degree at Cambridge. Look to the man who retired at 79, and had to cash out his retirement package, because he wanted life insurance so he wouldn’t leave his loved ones with the bill. Mr. Obama is a remarkable and inspiring figure, but let us not forget the little people who fought day in and day out to ensure all people had the rights and privileges to have such success.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.