HOLYOKE – A little after twelve o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts faced Barack Obama and swore in the nation’s first African-American president.
Later that night, at Heritage State Park, Holyoker’s young and old, black, white, and latino filled the museum’s hall and watched a rebroadcast of the day’s inauguration events.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation along with the Citizens for the Urban Revitalization and Success of Holyoke sponsored the event.
A large screen projected the image of Barack Obama moments after he recited the oath of office. He began his 18-minute speech as he faced the estimated 1.5 millions people who crowded through the narrow expanses of The Mall.
In the distance, the Washington Monument loomed large and the Lincoln Memorial appeared off to the left. Miles away and in the same direction, John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame flickered in Arlington National Cemetery. It can be seen on a clear night from the steps of the Capitol.
As Obama’s words filled the room, residents applauded at points. Some in the hall smiled and cheered. A few openly wept and wiped away tears.
Mothers and fathers sat with their children and watched. Husbands and wives drew close. Teenagers absorbed the words of the young, 47-year-old leader; it would be their JFK moment.
City Councilor Rebecca Lisa and a member of C.R.U.S.H, said the day transcends more that Obama becoming the first African-American president or his age.
“It’s really about how the people got involved; they made their voices heard,” said Lisi. “We have, through democracy, embraced diversity and are showing progress through using tools that democracy already provides for us.”
She said though the city has a number of programs and organizations designed to help residents, that everyone needs to work together and connect more as a community.
“It’s good to get people together because when we share moments like these, we see the humanity in one another. From there we can start working and building what we want to see in the future,” said Lisi.
A tray full of cookies, either in the shape of Obama’s now familiar campaign logo or in the shape of the six, New England states filled a tray on a table, as celebrants nibbled on the snacks, sipped apple cider, and chatted after the ceremony.
Holyoke City Historian Kate Thibodeau spoke before the event and gave a brief talk on previous inaugural speeches that echoed with similar themes of unity, service, and responsibility.
“As we all heard over and over again, it’s a moment of change. It’s a new tide not only for the nation, but for smaller communities like Holyoke,” said Thibodeau later.
Thibodeau said she talked to a number of people and she senses a “shift” in history.
“My parents and grandparents never thought something like this would ever happen,” said Thibodeau. “My generation always thought something like this could happen. It never occurred to us that there wouldn’t be an African-American, latino or a women president. It’s interesting to see the reaction of different people and the youth. These days anything is possible.”
For the last few days, Thibodeau had been in contact with a group from Holyoke Youth Builds. The teens were invited to attend an all-expense paid trip to the inaugural. The event was sponsored by millionaire businessman, Earl W. Stafford of Virginia who purchased the $1-million dollar inaugural package at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC.
Through emails and updates on the group’s blog, she has noticed a change in the perspective of some of the youth.
“I don’t think they ever thought they could be the people that people expected them to be. Coming from low-income families with not necessarily the material things a lot of people have, they’ve been treated like royalty for the past three or four days,” said Thibodeau.
She added, “People are expecting they will be the future and they’re ready to step up. They know this is change. They’re seeing the wave of change. I think it inspired them on levels they never thought they would be inspired.”
Kevin Garcia,16, a student at Holyoke High School and a community activist, said he was unable to attend the inauguration in Washington. He feels some of his fellow teens are more inspired since Obama won the election.
“People like me, with the stuff he’s doing now, we know we can do stuff and put forward to what we have,” said Garcia
Garcia is a member of the Holyoke Youth Commission and can be found at events and championing causes throughout the city.
“My deal is is that I really love community. I know that when I grow up my job for life might not have nothing to do with the community, but I will always be for the community. I’m never going to leave Holyoke,” said Garcia.
Garcia said with the election of Barack Obama, he now knows that he can achieve his own life-goals.
“I’m one of the few kids who says he will stay here. I’m going to make sure that no matter I do in the future, whether it be something as far away from what I do now in the community, I want to tie it in to what I do now,” said Garcia. “I want to always stay close to where my roots are and I always want to be helping. Nothings going to change that.”