What Alabama school kids take home from the inaugural
They revel in the magnitude and minutiae of a historic moment – clasped hands and fluttering flags, soaring rhetoric and rainbow-hued crowds.
Last of a three-part series on a school’s journey from Selma, Ala. Part 1, Knox Elementary goes to Washington for the inauguration, ran on Thursday. Part 2, One family's road to history, ran Tuesday.
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Brenton Sanders will always remember the import of the moment – both the poignancy and enormity of the first African-American taking the oath of office. But he will be carrying home something else as well: the civility and kindness of the throng of nearly 2 million people braving brisk temperatures to witness a piece of history.
The 16-year-old African-American from Selma, Ala., didn’t expect to see crowds of whites and blacks standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling, happy. He didn’t expect them to even look him in the eyes, let alone say, “Excuse me.” To him, the chemistry of the crowd may have been as much of an affirmation of the spirit of the moment as what was being expressed on the bunting-bedecked terrace a long – very long – distance in front of him.
“I think things are going to get a lot better,” he says with a blend of conviction and hope.
Brenton’s memories of the historic time on the National Mall are echoed by many of the adults and students from Selma who journeyed to the nation’s capital to see the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th president.
Every generation has its defining moments, ones that elicit the refrain, “Where were you when...,” whether it was Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Washington, or the first moon walk, or 9/11. For the students of Knox Elementary, this will be one of theirs, even though many of them aren’t yet fully aware of it.
Yet as they head home, they are reveling in the minutiae of the event even while working through its magnitude – a time of benumbed fingers and soaring rhetoric, of long bus rides and mass brotherhood.
“I’m not going to say I had fun,” says Tamira Bolden, 16. “But it was the best experience ever, if that makes sense.”
The adults knew it would be a life-changing experience. Few of Knox Elementary’s children had ever strayed beyond the perimeter of Selma. For most, Washington, D.C., was a strange, exotic place. They knew the president lived there. They could identify the White House – sort of. They had heard of the National Mall, though they weren’t quite certain of its purpose – park or shopping center?
Yet they could tell you all about the man about to be sworn in as president, from his children’s names to the dog breeds he’d considered adopting as primoris canis. Barack Obama was very real to them, and they were excited to see his inauguration, whether it happened outside among bicyclists and joggers, or inside between Sears and J.C. Penney.
They expected to leave with Obama buttons and pennants, or perhaps one of the dozens of “I Was There” T-shirts. But no one, not even Knox principal Joslyn Reddick, could have anticipated the overwhelming surge of hope and patriotic pride the 43 students and parents are carrying back to Alabama. Ms. Reddick spent almost a year planning this trip, gathering donations and trip agendas, worrying and praying over her young charges.