I used to watch old black and white footage of the March on Washington and wonder what it must have been like to be alive and present at such an historic event. I never laid eyes on Martin Luther King Jr. so it’s hard for me to see the face of thirty-four year old when I watch that old footage. I also never had a chance to hear Malcolm X with my own ears and experience the love and passion with which he spoke to his people. For years I had felt as if I had missed out on the defining moments in African-American history, but now I realize that every generation has its moments.
Witnessing Barack Obama’s inauguration was my moment. I’m not sure if there will be another one in my lifetime, but while I was out there, gazing at his face and hearing his voice, I understood why I had to fly across the country just to stand there. The television cameras captured perfect images of Barack’s cleanly shaven face and the microphones recorded his every intonation and utterance, almost to perfection. But the cameras didn’t show you our anticipation, anxiety, confusion, and excitement as we stood amongst herds of people waiting for Barack to deliver his inaugural address. The microphones didn’t pick up the grunts, groans, and complaints from other imaptient ticket holders, eagerly awaiting their chance to squeeze through the security gates.
Our feelings of hope and dreams of change momentarily turned to confusion and frustration as we tried our best not to step on each others toes (literally). The soles of our shoes gave way to frozen concrete after standing motionless for almost 45 minutes and waiting for an unidentified gate to open. I was losing feeling in my toes, but still I waited. I didn’t travel 3000 miles with every piece of wool and down I owned just to turn around out of fear of catching a cold. Whether I liked it or not, the lack of personal space kept my body temperature a few degrees above freezing. I tried to burrow my way through the madness, but found that I was better off waiting for the occasional crowd undulations to carry me to the front. At this point, my feet were barely touching the ground; I was practically crowd surfing. As much as we were all competing to get in, we actually benefited from the presence of others.
I’m thankful for the frustration; it revealed passion. People had worked for countless days and traveled thousands of miles just to be there and now their moment was threatened by chaotic crowds on Constitution Ave. So many years of emotional investment just to hear an hour long speech. And after the lines, the waits, and the cold, I’m so thankful that I got to be there.
Guest contributor Trevor Parham is the Creative Director at Kapor Enterprises, Inc. He is also a filmmaker and director; see his work at www.eklectyk.com.