HOLYOKE – The proximity to historical events usually comes through the remoteness of the internet or through the overly-analyzed buzz of television pundits.
For sixteen Holyoke youth, though, they will not only witness history first-hand, but be participants as well.
On Sunday they boarded a Peter Pan bus headed towards history, towards Washington, DC for the inauguration of the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama.
The group, along with people from all over the country, would be the guest of Virginia millionaire businessman, Earl W. Stafford at the JW Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just feet from the parade route and only yards from the White House.
But first, friends, family, well-wishers, and local officials gathered in the City Council Chambers last Thursday for a final civics lesson.
Mayor Michael J. Sullivan spoke to the students and wished them well. City Councilor Elaine Pluta stepped forward and presented a personal check to help with the group’s expenses.
Darnell Goldson, Executive Director of Holyoke Youth Build, said he read a news article about Stafford’s purchase of the $1-million dollar inaugural package at the JW Marriott to hold a “People’s Inaugural” for the marginalized or disadvantage.
Goldson got to work. With no event website set up, he emailed a person who might know Stafford. After the email “bounced” around, he finally got a reply and his request was forwarded to the youth committee for the event.
“They called me and said, ‘give me a pitch, give us a pitch on why we should bring your kids.’ So, I gave a two-minute elevator pitch on why our kids should participate in this event and they called me up a few days later and said you’re going to be invited.”
He said kids in Holyoke start off with some “serious issues” against them. He rattled off some disturbing socioeconomic statics that many residents face on a daily basis, which include a high-dropout rate from schools, teen-pregnancy rates that rank among the highest in the state, a high teenage arrest and incarceration rate, and other social ills.
“Two-points I was making, is they start off with this baggage, but they’ve taking it upon themselves to try to correct these issues. They, more than anyone else, should participate in this event.” The event organizers agreed and sent the tickets and reserved the rooms.
With tuxes pressed and ball gowns fitted, the group would participate in a youth ball at the hotel after they witnessed the historical event.
Jovani Collaza, 15, a volunteer with Neustras Raices, said it had been a whirlwind since he learned he would make the trip.
“It’s amazing, in history class I’m learning about other presidents inaugurations. So the offer to go to this is pretty amazing to me, I was shocked,” said the Holyoke High School freshman.
For Collaza, it will be his first visit to Washington, DC. He said he wants to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
He said when the next presidential election comes around, he will be of voting age. “It’s weird I know I can vote in four-years. So, this might change my views on politics.”
Collaza said he is a student of history but did not keep up with current events. Since the election, though, he pays more attention to political happenings.
He and his fellow travelers will post updates and photos on blog throughout their visit.