On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.
Also on that day, and in the same city (Washington DC), the man in this photograph was selling newspapers on 14th Street, just outside the Columbia Heights metro station. It was bitterly cold, but neither he nor the rest of the city really cared about that. People were outdoors, flowing enthusiastically and en masse toward the center of town to watch a man who, had he been born at a different period in American history, could have been bought and sold like a piece of property. But on this day, on this day, he was instead being sworn-in as president — President of an ever-evolving nation.
Whether one was heading to the National Mall for the history or the hope — that is, the first black president or anticipated changes in U.S. policy — one thing was certain: we were a lot of imperfect people who, in this moment, felt on the cusp of something significant, something that made us feel better about our corporate selves. There were many parts of Obama’s inaugural speech that drew a nod of approval or a downright roar from the crowd. Here was one:
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.
And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
Inaugurations are the high point of many presidencies, lush with hopes that time and circumstance will soon enough level. But whatever the future holds, the inauguration itself will remain a day to remember and celebrate. For on that day history was made.
(Note: I wrote the above the week of President Obama’s inauguration. As he concludes his presidency this week and as a new president takes office, I thought it worth a quick look back.)