As people from all over the world assembled to honor 2nd term President Barack Obama being sworn in at the 57th Presidential Inauguration of the United States in Washington D.C. the crowd’s enthusiasm made this cold day seem warmer.
I was fortunate to witness President Obama’s Inaugural Ceremonies in both 2009 and 2013. These historical, emotional, breath-taking events will remain with me for the rest of my life. All the activities that took place are in my head as I replay conversations with others about these historical moments. This special event will remain a conversation piece for days and years to come.
When Obama was re-elected as the President of the United States, in November 2012, I quickly made plans to attend the January 2013 Inauguration. It turned out that I had about 10 different sets of friends who were going to meet me there. In the end, I orchestrated a way for friends who had friends that couldn’t go to join other friends driving to D.C. who could go. You have to enjoy life when the opportunity is there even if a friend backs out.
My second term Inauguration experience was totally different from the first. This time I shared it with my sister, Toni Sudderth, Pat Oalden, Vernicka Mack and her brother Tim Stanfill, and Beverly Goodwine who both escorted us through our historical journey in D.C. What I will always remember about Tim was the way he treated us like military soldiers. He made sure we would be on time for everything, saying “Let’s Roll”, “We got to go”, “We got to make it happen”. And yes, we made it happen going to events and meeting so many people.
Vernicka and I arrived on Thursday, January 17, 2013 while Pat and Toni arrived on Saturday. While running all over the airport and lifting luggage, I injured myself. This made my first night in D.C. sad because I was hurting too much to slip into my long red dress to go with Vernicka and Tim. When they left me, I felt sad like Cinderella not going to the ball. As a Splash Magazine Journalist, I was so disappointed that I couldn’t go to the first ball hosted by CNN-TV Correspondent Roland Martin. There were so many important people there including comedian-civil right activist, Dick Gregory, Master-Pencil Artist, John Nelson and others.
Tim had a very exciting moment when he was unexpectedly reunited with someone he knew. Tim had played professional basketball overseas and is still associated with many basketball events (www.Dunktv.com). At this event, someone excitedly came up to him saying, “I remember you man, you was known for dunking and kicking the back board”. What a surprise! It was Michelle Obama’s cousin. That was so exciting and fun for both of them. Tim and his former teammate spent time reminiscing about their basketball days while Vernicka listened to their stories and laughed.
On Friday, January 18, Vernicka and I were very excited about going to the building where the Senators and U.S. Representatives report every day attempting to get things done. We had to be there to pick up our Inauguration tickets. We visited at least 12 offices attempting to get extra tickets for friends that needed tickets. It was fun visiting their offices and talking to them who happen to be in their offices.
Since I’m from Tennessee, I had to visit Republican John Duncan Jr’s office. I felt at home seeing all those orange and white colors. I remember meeting his father when I was in junior high school. Since I live in Georgia now, Vernicka and I had to visit all the Georgia offices. We really enjoyed visiting Congressman Hank Johnson Jr. who was so nice to us.
The highlight was the office of a Congressman; civil right movement activist who was beaten and sustained a fractured skull during “Bloody Sunday”(1965) when the people were marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama for Voting Rights. This was none other than John Lewis, age 73. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I started crying while looking at the historical photos, mementoes and achievements of Congressman Lewis that was displayed in his huge, exclusive office.
I loved the photo of him and Senator Robert Kennedy and the painting photo of President Obama honoring him with the Medal of Freedom, 2010.
In his office, they had a 15-minute video playing. Oh, that was a touching moment, seeing where he came from and where he is today. MLK would be so proud of this young college student that has made a difference in our lives. Once before I met John Lewis and the only thing I could do was shake his hand and say “Thank You”.
Saturday, we woke to excitement in the house because Tim and Vernicka’s other family members had joined us and we were preparing for a special community involvement project. Tim participates is so many community projects that we couldn’t help but be part of this project that him and Beverly (www.redcross.org) help coordinated. The city was filled with all types of projects because it was President Obama’s Inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr’s Holiday weekend coinciding with each other.
Years ago, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. King, made sure that the MLK Holiday would not be an idle time. She stressed serving your community by doing whatever needs to be done. We were really eager to provide service at Ideal Academy Public Charter School, (www.iapcs.com/) a school that President Obama thinks so highly of. We knew he was going to visit one of the charter schools but didn’t know which one he would choose. At the school, there was a beautiful “hands on” gathering. Many children, their parents, and volunteers gathered to paint the school, paint banners (Vernicka was loving this project) and create other art work that was going to be displayed to inspire the young kids every day at school. They served food to keep us smiling and working.
The most exciting and beautiful event occurred spontaneously when high school students who came from across the United States to volunteer rendered their service by singing to us. Under the direction of Reverend Liza Joy Marcato, Priest of the Christian Community in New York, they performed a highly spiritual concert.
We were so moved that the group invited Tim’s mother, his children and me to join them in singing. Mrs. Arissa Stanfill was so thrilled to be a part of this concert that she started singing a solo. While all this was happening, Tim recognized this golden moment and started filming us for his television program (www.testimonytv.com/). He interviewed Priest Marcato while I was taking photos.
Even though President Obama and Michelle were at another charter school painting, we still had a grand time. At the end of the day, we all could say we served our community on this National Day of Service in Washington D.C.
Afterward, we went to the downtown train station to pick up Toni and Pat. They said we chose President Obama over family and friends. We laughed but Toni and Pat didn’t think that was funny. Later that night, we went to “The Park at Fourteenth”, the official 5-story dance floor club for the Inauguration weekend. The rapper, Common was the guest artist and on Sunday, Jamie Foxx was going to perform. Common was good but we were on the floor above him so we only could see the top of his head during his performance. Elle Varner, a new artist, performed her song "Refill". It was so crowded but we still had fun laughing especially Beverly and I.
On Sunday, we cooked breakfast, said our breakfast prayer and then we all loaded up in two vehicles to go downtown for Martin Luther King Jr’s Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the newly built Monument (August, 2011).
We were thrilled to get there and see so many people. I met my other friend, Renea Gaines-Monger and her group. Because of the long walk, we were running late so friends had to make sacrifices. Beverly took Mrs. Stanfill back to the car while Pat and Vernicka were dropped off downtown. At the moment, we couldn’t understand why it was so important that Tim get inside the ceremony. Toni and I made the sacrifice of watching the children while Tim tried to get in because he was late dealing with us nine ladies.
Soon it was time for the VIP’s to walk out from the ceremony to go lay the wreath in front of the 30-foot MLK monument. I was snapping photos of Martin Luther King III, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx, Dick Gregory and etc. As I was looking at all those VIPs, who do I see in the midst of them? Our friend, Mr. Tim Stanfill. He was filming with his camera while I was photographing him with the VIPs.
I almost started crying because now I knew why it was so important for him to get inside that ceremony. He was so happy and said it was all about business. Afterward, we walked around the monument walls explaining to the girls how those excerpts were inspiring and meaningful because they were from MLK sermons and speeches.
Toni and I separated from Tim and the girls. Then, we joined Pat and Vernicka who were at the Congress building trying to get more Inauguration tickets. We re-visited Hank Johnson’s office. While there, we were reunited with my former basketball coach and a former co-worker of Vernicka's named Thomas Hurt. Vernicka and I couldn’t help but laugh when we re-visited other Georgia Representatives offices. This day we had to decline their hospitality as they offered us more sodas and PEANUTS. Georgia is known for peanuts. The other day when we spent so many hours in the Congress building we ate so many peanuts, they became our meals. We had our “peanut” lunch in the hallway by the elevators as people were stopping and smiling at us even this nice looking Congressman smiled at us.
Finally, after getting more Inauguration tickets we treated ourselves to a meal downtown and peeped inside a place of business to see our NFL-Atlanta Falcons trying to make it to the Super Bowl. In the end, we were one game away from heading to the big game. We called it a night after dinner because we would be heading to the Inauguration at 4 a.m. We watched the TV recap of the day events and learned what to expect for Inauguration 2013.
Previously, I said Tim treated us like we were in the military so he was calling roll for us to be ready to get on the train so we wouldn’t be late going through the crowd and security first thing that morning.
I was just so thankful to be alive and to feel all this excitement in the air. Even on the train, I was getting emotional. Standing in the line for hours, time went by so quickly because it was captivating and amazing watching the sun rising over the Capitol and other fixtures in D.C.
I enjoyed watching people from all walks of life who came to witness this moment. I almost got separated from my crew because I stopped to buy a souvenir and was still trying to help other Atlanta friends, Homer Dukes and Jacqueline Steger get in the Inauguration. They got in and saw history taking place, too!
In 2013 it was a little warmer at 35 degrees than the 20 degrees in 2009. It was electrifying seeing the crowd grow. My Tennessee friend, Caroline Mynatt-Tate and her crew said they saw people sharing food with others like it was a picnic. People were talking to each other and making new friends. You could really feel the love in the air.
When the VIP’s would show up on the big screen at the Inauguration we would start cheering. When we first saw the First Lady, Michelle Obama, we started hollering and continued when Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill appeared. We were so excited when President Obama came in, we were hollering and I started crying tears of joy.
Again, I was thankful to GOD to be there with my sister Toni, and my friends sharing this moment.
The singing, the speeches and the swearing in were great and a beautiful sight. When it was time to go Tim said, “let’s roll”. He wanted to make sure we got a good spot at the Inauguration Parade. We turned around to start walking when I witnessed a moment that I shared with President Obama that has become the climax of the whole weekend. When I turned around to leave, I could see those millions of people stretching from the Capitol all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial. It was so breath taking that I had to stop and take a photo. I soaked in that moment.
Days later when I watched the TV coverage, I saw that same scene, which was also appreciated by President Obama. He was amazed, he turned around and said those famous words “I want to take a look one more time, I’m not going to see this again”.
Seeing that on the news, I knew I had done the right thing when I stopped to capture that photo. It was worth it even though my crew (except my sister) left us. I told Toni not to worry, that we would be fine. God always has our backs.
When we were leaving, I happen to be walking near this beautiful husband and wife union and their children. It was fine actor Boris Kodjoe and beautiful actress Nicole Parker. I didn't say anything to them but the surprise is when we (Pat, Vernicka, Homer) all returned to Atlanta, we went to this BET event and they were there. I told Nicole it was amazing that I had just seen them three days ago in D.C. She started laughing and said she remembered seeing me. Oh, how special was that.
Back in D.C., the hours were passing and half the parade was over when we were reunited with our crew at a restaurant. Because of security, cell phones would not work properly. Around 6 p.m. my voice and text messages came in all at once. When we started sharing our stories, I got mad at them when they told me they were right there when the Obamas exited the limo (the Beast) and started walking the parade. They said they were screaming. I had another military friend show me her photo when the Obamas exited the limo in front of her. She is a high ranking official in the Air Force but she said when she saw them she started acting like a groupie hollering and screaming. I thought that was too funny because I heard others say they were screaming and hollering too.
Mrs. Ollie Nelsons and her crew who are in their 60’s & 70’s told me they were so excited when the Obamas began their walk that they were screaming and trying to take photos at the same time. The bad mistake was when they thought they were snapping the photos they were actually turning the camera off. Funny. Toni and I saw the motorcade go by but we didn’t get to see them get out of the car. We were so hurt. I thank God for the Parade bleacher tickets two ladies gave us but we didn’t end up in the right spot.
After we shared our “today” stories, Tim had to leave us so we ladies went back outside to the 6-hour Parade. I was already feeling a little down and I wanted to make something happen. So when I saw the parade still going on I got excited. I said “COME ON Y'ALL let’s make it to the end of the parade because the Obama’s should be sitting at the Parade Stand”. We were stopping, greeting people and taking photos. I was so happy as we were getting near the end when I told Toni, Pat, and Vernicka “there’s the White House”. Oh we were so excited. We started taking so many photos of the parade and the building in the background of the parade. Then, when we turned the corner, I realized it wasn’t the White House but the United States Treasury Building we were taking all those photos of. Oh, they got mad at me because they had wasted so many photos of the wrong building. I told them oops, I’m sorry I missed that part of Social Studies in Jr. High School.
When we finally saw the White House and the Parade Stand it was lit up so beautifully. I was so excited that I felt like Dorothy getting ready to see the Wizard of Oz.
We started walking faster and faster. Finally, as soon as we got there in front of the stand, guess what? I only saw President Obama about 6 seconds before he turned around to leave the Parade Stand. I couldn’t believe it. Toni couldn’t see anything but Pat and Vernicka had run up the bleachers so they were able to see. Again, I got mad at them.
The excitement was still there even after the Obamas, Bidens and families had gone to get ready for the Balls. We took photos of this beautiful scenery. Later we talked to a news cameraman who sometimes carries stories about the White House. The amazing thing he said was that President George Bush Sr. (Republican) and President Obama (Democratic) talk all the time.
By this time, we were exhausted from a long fun-filled Inauguration Day. We went home and chilled in front of the TV watching the recap of the day. We felt so good watching President Obama and his First Lady, Michelle, dance so gracefully at the Balls.
I told everyone it would not have done me any good to dance with the President at the military ball. I probably would have fainted on the first note.
Tuesday, the next day, we didn’t leave the house until 3 p.m. We went sight seeing to the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial and then the King Memorial again.
I found out later I missed the White House Tours on Tuesday. I was mad again. Later, we met Renea’s friend Janie Mennis (once had dinner with President Obama and Michelle) and their crew at the popular Georgia Brown’s Restaurant which was down the street from the White House.
While there, two women in their late 60’s started sharing stories about how they had the honor of attending the Inauguration Ball. They showed us photos of President Obama and Michelle in her gorgeous red dress. It was amazing listening to their exciting stories.
Before we left, I stayed inside talking to others saying how the food was great. Toni and the crew went out doors to wait for me. As I came outside they were smiling with excitement especially Toni. She saw all this commotion, lights flashing and traffic being held up. Then, she realized she was watching the motorcade for President Obama. She was happy and satisfied that she finally got to see something. They told me I missed it. Again, I was mad!! They said when they saw the motorcade someone was laughing and hollering “And where is he going to now”. Toni and the crew laughed. Well, that was our last night in the Nation’s Capitol. Now, we were on our way to the house.
On Wednesday, January 23 before we flew out of D.C. Toni and I visited our mother’s second cousin for a few minutes. It was great seeing family.
When I reflect on my second Inauguration, I am blessed and thankful to have shared this with my sister, friends, the world, and Splash Magazine readers. We all can reflect on the last words President Barack Obama said at the closing of his swearing in ceremony.
“Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom. Thank you. God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America .”
Copyright © 2013.MAR This story written and photos taken by Renee Sudderth for Splash Magazines. It is not to be sold or reproduce without written permission of Renee Sudderth