ATLANTA (CN) — Although my inauguration trip has been over since last Thursday, I am still awash in the images, sounds and thoughts I experienced while in our nation's capital last week. I keep imagining myself as I was when I was in the third grade. I wonder what I would have thought if I knew back then that sometime in my lifetime, our nation would elect its first black president.
The third grade was a difficult year for me. I was old enough to realize that I was the only black student in a class of white students, and I was also old enough to realize that my neighborhood was entirely black. And I didn't feel comfortable in either setting.
At school, the kids constantly asked me questions that indirectly related to my race. And when I was home, the kids thought I was weird because I went to a white school.
So what did I do? I managed to lose myself in books. I spent many hours in the one-room library across the hall from my third grade classroom. Eventually, I stumbled onto a series of children's books about slaves. (Bless the librarian that ordered those books!)
After reading those books, I was able to understand to some degree why blacks and whites have a complicated relationship in this country. Fast forward nearly 30 years. Now third graders can read stories about slaves, but they can also read stories about our new black president. Wow!
Three girlfriends and I took a road trip from Atlanta to D.C. last Saturday, but we were actually part of an extended crew of at least 20 people from the Atlanta area. After arriving on Saturday night, my roommates and I headed to the mall to load up on the essentials: thermal underwear, scarves, gloves, boots, etc. as we heard that D.C.'s temperature was likely to dip to the single digits throughout the week. (Not good news for a girl of Jamaican descent who lives in Atlanta)
I was starting to feel sick too so I also bought some TheraFlu too, and one of my girlfriends told me I could pop her ibuprofen pills as needed. We were excited because the next day we were going to the inauguration concert at Lincoln Memorial where we would see the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé and other hot stars.
Since it was a free, star-studded concert, we left our hotel room at about 8 a.m. to make sure that we got a "front-row" seat although the concert wasn't going to start until about 2 p.m. As soon as we cleared the Washington monument, I saw a row of Portolets as far as the eye could see. I knew then it was going to be long day.
Although it was still early morning, we were already among a crowd of people that made our way up the mall. As I looked around, I realized that this was one of the most diverse crowds I had ever seen. I saw white people, black people, Asian people, Indian people, young people, middle-aged people and old people.
To get warm in the D.C. morning air, my extended crew huddled together on the patch of grass that we claimed as our own and waited for the concert to begin. We played Uno, took pictures, talked amongst ourselves, ate snacks and surveyed our neighbors as we waited.
I decided to talk with this guy, Johnny, who was sitting next to me. The 20-year-old Texan said he was in D.C. to take a college leadership class. Since I'm a celebrity hound at 35, I assumed that he was there to revel in the celebrity-studded event too.
"I'm here for the experience," he said. "I'm apathetic about the concert." I correctly assumed, however, that he voted for Obama and asked him why.
"I voted for him because I wanted a black president," said Johnny, who appeared to be of Asian descent. "The idea that I can say to my kids one day that I was a part of that. This is history."
His response surprised me. I only expected to hear responses like that from black people. The concert didn't disappoint. Celebrities such as Mary J. Blige, Bono, Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, Marisa Tomei, Steve Carell, Garth Brooks and others were in the house. Although I was battling the flu, it was great.
Several hours later, in a Starbucks, my friends and I rested our weary bodies and loaded up on caffeine before we made the long trek back to the hotel room. With all of the people roaming around in the streets at that point, it was nearly impossible to get anywhere fast.
As I reclined in one the coveted cushy chairs, I noticed what appeared to be a college student studying. It struck me as odd as everyone else was chattering excitedly and reveling in the moment. I decided to interrupt her with a few questions.
Brittani Yriarte, 21, a student at UCLA, told me she was in the city for four months taking a political science class.
"I am thankful to be here because it's such a historical moment, and it's inspiring to see how excited Americans are because of it," said Yriarte, who planned to attend the inauguration.
Yriarte, however, who is a Republican, admitted that she would not have gone out of her way to attend the inauguration had she not been in D.C.
"I hope Obama continues to pay attention to national security issues and make wise decisions that aren't completely partisan in regard to the economy."