Euphoric group of early risers treks to D.C. from Philly

Posted: January 23, 2013

WASHINGTON - As Devon Cannon walked toward the National Mall Monday morning for President Obama's second inaugural, with his daughter in tow, he was reminded of the last major event that brought him to the nation's capital.

Cannon, 46, was just a teenager at West Philadelphia High School marching with hundreds of groups in the 1980s to support recognizing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday. At the time, he said, it was just a fun school trip for him, but now he considers it an opportunity to be a part of history. He wanted to share a similar experience with his 14-year-old daughter, Maja.

"It's good for her to have a moment where she can say she was there," said Cannon, of Germantown, adding that a lot of youths "don't know how much people struggled to see something like this come true."

Maja, at first, was unhappy about the trip, thinking the day would be boring, but her frown faded quickly once Obama's face appeared on the video screen.

"I love Barack," she said. "I like how he actually cares. He seems like a genuine, nice person. I can do anything I put my heart to because [Obama], he did it."

Nearly a million people gathered in Washington, D.C., to witness the public swearing-in ceremony of the first black president's second term, which was the same day as the national holiday honoring King. Cannon and his daughter traveled there with a busload of Philadelphians in the wee hours of the morning.

It was a day that Edward Coleman, 84, never thought he'd experience. As the charter bus rode through sleeping towns, Coleman shed a tear while he watched the morning news on the bus' mini-TVs airing clips from Obama's 2009 inauguration. Coleman recalled growing up in Philadelphia when black trolley drivers with routes through South Philly were beaten because of the color of their skin. Then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order assigning bayonet soldiers to trolley cars to keep the peace, he said.

"Black drivers don't know that people paved the way for them," said Coleman, who went to the inauguration with his daughter Terese, 52, and his grandson Sean, 10.

Harriette Downing, 50, wanted to be in D.C. four years ago when a record 1.8 million people were in town to witness Obama's first swearing-in ceremony, but she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Downing wasted no time getting a ticket from friend Tracey Brown, 47, of Francisville, who along with her husband, Muhammad Horton, 51, rented a bus for 55 relatives and friends for the trip.

"I may not have been here," she said of 2009. "This is history. I had to be a part of it."

Downing rode down with her best bud of 40 years, Clarice "Twinkle" Booker, 46, who said that for the first time she could relate to the politics.

"I always felt like it didn't apply to me," said Booker. "But he's fighting for us, the middle class, not just black people. I felt like he has our back and we should have his."

Over the next four years, Booker hopes Obama is able to create more jobs and implement tougher gun laws that will get assault rifles off city streets. Philadelphia experienced an uptick in homicides last year - a total of 331.

After the tragic shooting at Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 dead, including 20 children, Obama has pushed for stricter gun-control laws, and he addressed the issue briefly in his inaugural speech.

"I'm not against people having the right to bear arms, but regular people shouldn't have assault rifles," Booker said.

On the National Mall, tiny American flags danced in the air, and the euphoric crowd roared every time the Obamas were visible on the huge screens. The group that hailed from Philly debated politics and marveled at first lady Michelle Obama's dress.

Would the next president be celebrity Mayor Cory Booker, of Newark, N.J., or hothead New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie? The group remained undecided. "The next president is in this crowd," Horton said.

Obama appeared on the video screen again. "Yes!" shouted Frances Click, 38, who had come up with nicknames for Obama and Michelle. "B-rock and Shelly . . . them my peoples."

On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom


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