I’ve never been part of history before. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen cool things and bad things, but saying I’ve witnessed History (capital H) would be a stretch. As I prepared for my trip I imagined what it would be like and, I have to say, I was wrong. My idea of History didn’t compare with what I experienced.
Last week I took a very short trip to a very large event, the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I left on the red eye last Sunday and arrived in Baltimore on Monday morning at 9 am. I made my way to to the south end of the Capitol Building where so many of us would be fixated the following morning. As I turned the corner, it became closer to real. The barricades, porta potty lined walkways, and people everywhere – I mean everywhere. I stood in front of the Capitol. It was dressed up with American flags – flags that I have never been so proud to see. The choir was practicing – children were everywhere, their parents lift them up pointing and explaining what was about to happen to their world.
My trip built upon that moment. Every minute added another layer of power and depth. I spent the day walking the National Mall. Occasionally, I’d stop and talk to people, and they’d talk back. “Aren’t you excited?” “It’s really happening!” “This is my country.” Everyone was smiling. Everyone was helping one another whether by offering to snap a photo (I traveled alone), a piece of gum, a snack… anything. I slept only a few hours to board the metro just before 6 am and experience the start of a new day. The metro was PACKED, but no one pushed or argued or sniped. Instead people cheered, God Bless America broke out along with a short Happy Birthday to one girl who turned 21 (pictured at left).
It took me an hour to find the end of my long line and I stood there for hours. I got to know the people I was standing by. Black, white, young, old, rich, poor – none of that mattered on this special day. After I got through security, I literally sprinted to the Capitol and stood directly behind the reflecting pond. It was an incredible sight. The electricity and positive energy is something that I’ll never ever forget. It was a spiritual reminder that humans are all so similar, we want to be the best, we want to help, we want to understand each other. As I stood and listened to President Obama speak, I took a moment to turn around and take it in. He was saying these words:
“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”
It hit me. It was not Barack Obama who blew me away that day. It was us. All of us. We had come together and already accomplished something truly historical. Yes we did! But this accomplishment seemed almost minor compared to the energy, hope, and team work it took to accomplish it. Hope won – and here I was standing next to three African American women my age crying, hugging, and cheering together.
I spent the rest of the day dancing on the iced-over reflecting pond, calling all of my family and friends, and having a long lunch with four people who I had never met before from all different walks of life. It was one of the best lunches I’ve had – mixed with elation and deep discussion on ‘what now?’.
On my flight home I struggled to answer this question – almost to the point of frustration. What more can I do? How can I create real change? I need to do more. Yesterday I finally got a chance to read President Obama’s letter to his daughters. The most poignant line to me reads, ‘it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.’ It was a great reminder to me that I’m doing some very cool work here at LEV helping ensure that all children are ready for life. Sometimes changing the world feels difficult (okay really difficult), but last week reminded me that it is possible. That’s enough to keep me going. It takes team work and diligently chipping away at a common goal. More than that, it is what needs to be done.
I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity. – Barack Obama, ‘What I Want for You – and Every Child in America.’