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Friday, April 12, 2024

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Why I couldn’t stop crying on Inauguration Day

Dammit America, you got me. Again.

Like so many of us, I made a point of being in front of a television on Inauguration Day. Given the dynamics of the past four years – let alone a pandemic and an attempted coup just two weeks prior – I had my doubts about America. Truth is, I still do.

So why did I feel a tear run down my cheek almost as soon as Sen. Amy Klobuchar opened up the ceremony? I mean, I cried when Barack Obama was inaugurated just 12 years ago; I defy you to find me an African American who didn’t. But . . . Amy Klobuchar?

She spoke about how Abraham Lincoln demanded construction of the U.S. Capitol Dome continue even as the war raged. “If people see The U.S. Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on,” she quoted Lincoln saying.

“It now falls on all of us . . . to take up the torch of democracy, not as a weapon of political arson, but as an instrument for good,” Klobuchar added. “We pledge today to never take our democracy for granted.”

Cue the tears. And it didn’t stop there. While singing the national anthem, Lady Gaga looked like she was about to explode with joy. Even Jennifer Lopez’ mashup of “This Land is Your Land” and “America The Beautiful” was moving, as it spoke very directly to whose nation this is. 

After I’d dried my unexpected tears, it was time for the expected ones: The moment when one woman would shatter multiple ceilings in the American story, by saying some very plain words.

“I, Kamala Devi Harris, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend The Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. That I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Vice President Kamala Harris receives the oath of office during the Inauguration ceremonies. (Photo via NNPA)

The biracial daughter of immigrants and an alumnae of an HBCU is now one heartbeat away from becoming the leader of the free world. Yeah, America, you got me. Again. 

Argh! What is this feeling? It’s vaguely familiar but it’s been so long I’ve almost forgotten the word for it . . . ah, yes: HOPE. And man, could we use summadat that right now.

Before the inauguration, NBC News’ Chuck Todd made a striking observation about the challenges ahead for the Biden Administration. He noted that Lincoln had to deal with an insurrection; Woodrow Wilson had the 1919 influenza pandemic; FDR had the Great Depression; JFK had the racial and social unrest of the 1960s. Individually, each crisis was monumental. Biden enters office having to deal with all four at once. That’s not including the national or global crisis that is surely coming. 

COVID isn’t going anywhere, unarmed citizens of color are still being shot, and homegrown terrorism may be on the rise. Wildfires will rage, hurricanes will ravage. It’s a cliché but things will get worse before they get better. And yet, I have hope.

Like generations of African Americans, my country has broken my heart many times before – the times when we dared dream that these lofty ideals of America might become a reality, only to watch her fall short time and time again. Despite Biden’s explicitly stated and presumably sincere pledge to dismantle systemic racism, America hasn’t fallen short for the last time. 

But I’ll be damned if she doesn’t keep getting back up, taking one creaky step forward at a time toward becoming “a more perfect union.” On Jan. 6, America took a hit from a misguided lynch mob. Just two weeks later, she was back on her feet – her “head bloodied, but unbowed.” 

Tito, get me some tissue.

There’s Garth freakin’ Brooks on my TV, asking not just the socially distanced crowd at the Capitol to sing “Amazing Grace” with him, but everyone at home as well. If you somehow managed to keep your eyes dry while you were singing – and you KNOW you were singing — you may need your soul examined. Knowing the world was singing along in a universal moment of solidarity and humility . . . actually, I’m getting a little choked up even writing about it now. 

Now that I know it apparently is possible to overdose on optimism, I needed a dose of reality. As I make a habit to do, I flipped over to Fox News on Inauguration Night to see what was being said to the other half of America. 

I was disappointed but not surprised to hear Always-Trumper Sean Hannity rip into Biden as a liar, even as fireworks lit up the Washington Monument. When he noticed footage of Harris giving her first remarks as VP, “Get that off the screen,” he grumbled. 

Sad, because here’s some of what Hannity refused to air or let his audience hear:

“(W)hat President Joe Biden has called upon us to summon now (is) the courage to see beyond crisis. To do what is hard, to do what is good,” said Vice President Harris. “To unite, to believe in ourselves, believe in our country, believe in what we can do together. Thank you, and may God bless America.”

President Biden delivered a stirring and inspiring address of his own, but was upstaged when all the accumulated hope and optimism stepped to the microphone wearing radiant, youthful brown skin, braids and a bright yellow coat. National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” will be quoted for generations to come, none more than the poem’s final lines: 

“When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid,” she beamed. “The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. 

“If only we’re brave enough to BE it.”

If you’re feeling hopeful and inspired like I am, awesome. 

Now dry your eyes and roll up your sleeves. We’ve got work to do.

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