Inauguration 2.0: The Moral Argument for Diversity
On Tuesday January 20, 2009 I was amongst 1.8 million friends and family on the National Mall celebrating the almost unimaginable election of the nation's first black president. It stands in my mind as one of the most seminal moments in my life. Four years later it was time to celebrate the validation of that election, epitomized by the re-election of our nation's 44th President. The profound nature of the moment was no less palpable than it was four years ago.
I decided to stay at home and watch the inauguration with my grandmother and great grandmother. The chance to watch this historic event with two women who have lived through some of the darkest moments in American and world history put a tremendous amount of things in perspective. America inaugurating the first black president of the United States on the same day we celebrated the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. was incredibly surreal. I sat in the living room with two women who were alive to remember Martin Luther King's life and death. I sat in the room with two women who were afraid to embrace the candidacy of Barack Obama not because he wasn't qualified to hold office, but out of fear that he wouldn't be elected by white America and/or his life would be in danger. I sat in the room with women who were now so proud of his accomplishments that it was as if they themselves had won the presidency.
As the day and the pomp and pageantry of this country's seamless transition of power began, diversity was at its core. Looking at the podium, the multiracial tableau of a newly established America was on display. From Myrlie Evers nod to the Civil Rights struggle of her late husband Medgar Evers, to the magnificent choir from my home borough of Brooklyn bringing our President to tears, to the first Latina Supreme Court Justice delivering the oath of office to a sitting Vice President, to a Latino preacher giving the invocation in both English and Spanish, to the first openly gay and Latino poet to give the inaugural poem, right down to the people in the stands. Everything about the moment beckoned to a new day in this country where scenes like this will be the norm.
As Barack Obama began to take the oath my grandmother said that President Obama reminds her of me. While some may say that this is simply a grandmother's love for her eldest grandson, the life and story of Barack Obama more represents the life and journey that many of my friends and I experienced. Americans are always shown stereotypical views of black and brown people. Very seldom are images of black people who have attended top tier schools and colleges, who are as educated if not more than many, who dedicate their lives to the betterment of others either in community service or education are shown. But in fact many of my friends have very similar stories. To see our President exude and prove that we matter has always been a source of tremendous pride for many.
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."- President ObamaThe inauguration address was nothing short of magical. I have always viewed the struggle for women's rights, Civil Rights, and gay rights as inextricably connected. Freedom for one group is tantamount to freedom for others. Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall are all seminal moments in the history of marginalized people in the United States. People who are marginalized simply for not being part of the perceived group of power. Marginalized for simply being created in a likeness of our Heavenly Father that at times in history was not accepted by large swaths of society. Seeing those battles be connected to the movement of a man, a King, by the most powerful leader of the free world was extremely validating. It showed that the struggle for equality has transformed, it has grown, it has changed. Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated that 'the arch of justice bends toward freedom." After listening to the President's inauguration it can not be ignored that the arch is now bigger and that the justice we should all seek as citizens and members of this body politic called America must continue. I applaud the President for making the moral argument of this century while still articulating the moral obligation to help all citizens via quality social programs and a good education.
As the day went on and the president and his family were together, pride swelled in me even more. The first family is an example to people of all races and socio-economic classes to look up to. They break the mold of how families are shown in society. The love that they have for each other shows that no matter the position, no matter the challenge, family is important. The president himself continues to break the mold for black men. He proves that black men can be emotional, can hug, and even more importantly, can cry. Collectively and individually the Obama family continues to break molds that will undoubtedly change views of and for people of color.
Overall yesterday was a day that could ultimately not only change the future of this country but equally the future of this presidency. Barack Obama laid out a vision both verbally and non verbally that aims to make his presidency more resembling the work of King than the work of Lincoln. While that's a lofty goal, it is my hope that the next four years brings about some of the change that the President articulated. Then and only then can we continue to achieve the more perfect union we perpetually aim for.