On this Inauguration day, I choose to reflect on President Obama’s first inauguration on January 20, 2009 and what it meant to me. It was a blistering cold day with temperature in the 20’s. I attended with a college friend and sorority sister. We were so excited that we could hardly sleep the night before. My friend wanted to get there very early to make sure we had a good spot. We were not fortunate to have tickets with seats. We settled on arriving at 7:25 am.—a little later than the original 5:00 am time my friend suggested. The actual swearing in was not until 12 noon.
The time passed by effortlessly. We talked to those in the crowd as though they were old friends. As I looked around the crowd, I saw faces of all races, ethnicities and ages. I recall an older black woman who came from Florida. Her son brought her a ticket and paid for hotel room in November. When she had to have back surgery, her son assumed she would not be able to attend. She was determined to make it—-walker and all. She knew it was likely a once in a lifetime experience.
I will never forget Aretha Franklin singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee while clad in her green church going hat. Her rendition was part gospel, part jazzy and all soul. It made the words of the song ring clear to me for the first time.
“My country ‘tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty—of thee I sang. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
It was the first time I saw my country with new eyes. And as President Obama took the oath of office, tears swelled in my eyes—as they did in those around me. All my emotions of that day and my life as a Black woman in America were wrapped up in that moment. I felt like I was a part of America for the first time.
At the end of the swearing in ceremony, flags were given out. People were hoarding flags—taking two, three and four flags as souvenirs. Unfortunately, I did not get one. I asked every Black person I saw if could have one of their extra flags. No one wanted to give up one flag. One small white boy gave me one of his extra flags. I still have that small flag today. That flag is a reminder to me of what I felt like as a proud Black woman in America on January 20, 2009. That was a long time ago from where I stand today.
Today I feel sadness for my country. And I mourn the fact that President Obama’s term is finished. That frigid cold day on January 20, 2009 gave me the spirit to fight for what I want this country to become. This is my country –and I will fight to feel what I felt on January 20, 2009 once again. And just like the words to the gospel song—“ I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal and political analyst and former prosecutor. She frequently appears on MSNBC, PBS, CBS, Al Jazeera, Fox 5 DC, among others.