Editor's note: Steve Zurier of Columbia, Maryland contributes this first-hand account of the inauguration in Washington, D.C.
My wife and I took our two teenage sons to the inauguration in Washington, D.C. yesterday and we can proudly say that we were there when Barack Obama brought America together. While this is most certainly a high point in African-American and civil rights history, it is also a great American moment. In the crowd, people didn't care if you were black or white, rich or poor, polished academic or work-a-day construction worker. What mattered was that you had made the trip to celebrate Barack Obama's special victory. What mattered more was the content of your character. Each person, by their mere presence, was making a powerful statement.
The general feeling among the crowd was that of tolerance. And that's tolerance for one another and tolerance for the enormity of what everyone was collectively experiencing. Many people walked up to 10 miles to navigate around D.C. today. The streets were packed and too often at various entry points in the mall the flow of the crowd stopped and people simply had to be patient. But there were few major mishaps. Yes, I saw one man step off a curb and fall and another man passed out from the strain of walking several miles around the city to the mall. Yet, each time someone fell, there were at least two or three people there to pick the person up or attend to the incident. If this is where American is headed count me in. Hopefully the Darwinian era of Republican politics will be replaced by a truly kinder and gentler America. We can only hope.
This most public of ceremonies was also very personal for me. I went to Clifton High School, in nearby North Jersey. When I graduated in 1973, the only black student at the high school was the star running back for the football team. I went from that environment to the melting pot of Livingston College at Rutgers University. Years later, in the 1990s and 2000s, I raised my family in Columbia, Md., the planned city that prides itself on its racial tolerance and diversity.
It is astounding when I think about how far the country has come and how my personal journey reflects this long march toward racial progress and understanding. As a middle and high school student, I knew no black children. But one of my son Ben's teammates on his basketball team was named Kenyatta, after the great Kenyan leader; and at my son Solomon's bar mitzvah a few years ago at least half of the friends he invited were African-American.
The truth is that even the modest social changes my family experienced living in Columbia are far from the norm in our country, but let today's event be a new beginning. For more than 30 years conservatives have held sway in Washington and America is worse off for it. I really believe our new president is just getting started at honing his community organizing skills. Turning around American will take years, not months or days. But I can promise you that the millions who came to celebrate Obama's inauguration can all be counted on to do their share.