The new American

My experience at the inauguration

With eyes wide open, I traveled to the District of Columbia during inauguration weekend hoping to experience what our country has to offer.

I never was patriotic or felt like I could identify with other Americans. So celebrating America was something I was hesitant to be a part of but my thoughts would later change.

On the heels of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King’s birthday and the anniversary of the historical march on Washington, D.C., the inauguration represented momentous occasions in American history.

The weekend not only acknowledged the significance of the past; it stressed the importance of the future.

Arranged with a series of events including the National Day of Service, inaugural balls, the inaugural parade and swearing-in ceremony, President Barack Obama showed Americans they can help define what it means to be an American.

“We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still,” Obama said during his inauguration, “… just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

The American value of hard work was exhibited first with the National Day of Service, a day emphasizing the importance of improving the lives of others through volunteering.

Almost 80 percent of schoolchildren in the District of Columbia are illiterate. Schools in D.C.’s Ward 8 have a literacy rate of about 20 percent, meaning one in five students can read at their grade level. Sponsored by the Presidential Inaugural Committee and Capital Cause, a nonprofit organization focusing on young professionals getting involved in philanthropy, volunteers helped to donate more than 1,000 books for D.C. children.

Volunteers were asked to paint murals, write personal messages to students and make audio recordings of books.

The evening’s events led to the Illinois State Society’s Inaugural Ball, which offered Illinois’ elite a chance to celebrate, network and plan ahead for the state.

On Sunday I went to the White House to view the parade area, and then went to the Martin Luther King Memorial, which was at the top on my list.

Most children are taught about King, but probably cannot understand his contribution to the society they live in. During the Civil Rights movement, African Americans were told they didn’t deserve the rights their fellow Americans had. Because of King and the efforts of countless others, they can now live in a world where Barack Obama is president.

At the memorial, families celebrated, exchanged stories and basked in the glory of the weekend.

It was there where I discovered the Soul Children of Chicago, an inspirational chorus from Chicago ranging from ages seven to 17 singing “God Bless America.”

The lyrics were hard to relate to because I don’t indentify with the typical American dream. I feel as though because of my background, success is harder to attain.

Kennedy Moore, 16, of Soul Children of Chicago, said being able to use her voice to uplift others made her feel connected to the celebration.

“It makes me feel like I’m touching somebody’s heart or maybe changing their lives by singing the words ‘God bless America, God bless this country,’” she said. “We’re not just singing it, we really mean it. God bless our president, the people and this world.”

Monday would bring a new atmosphere as everything had led up to the inauguration.

As President Obama took his oath of office on the Bibles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, he added another layer to the image of an American.

In previous decades, Obama would have been part of a group who wouldn’t have had a say in what America is. He is now president. This means others with work and education can have a say in the shaping of America.

In one of his closing statements President Obama said, “My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.”

Before I went to the inauguration, I felt that even with hard work and diligence, my success would be confined to a certain level because of my ethnicity and socio-economic status. The experiences I had during the National Day of Service and seeing the inauguration, as well as what Obama represents – success, hard work and overcoming adversity – left me with a feeling of responsibility and the belief that I can determine my own destiny.

Contact Jacqueline Muhammad at

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