As the Jan. 20 inauguration of this nation’s 44th president, Barack Obama, grows nearer and nearer, you can feel change in the air. It’s as present, as palpable, as that first cool September breeze cutting through the oppressive summer heat, signaling the start of another autumn.
    {mosimage}It’s a change that’s being felt across this nation and across Fayetteville, a shifting of history’s tectonic plates as the first African American readies himself for the Oval Office.
    It is a change that Helen Hooks Farrior, a former member of the Cumberland County School Board who will be traveling to Washington D.C. to see the inauguration firsthand, says has surely been a long, long time coming.
“I feel disbelief that this has happened in my lifetime,” said Farrior. “I was born back when we didn’t have access to what we have now. There were so many doors that were closed to us … opportunities that were closed. I can remember the school bus passing me and we were walking. I can remember getting school books that were not new. I remember having to go to the outside of a restaurant and having sandwiches passed to you. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would have someone of African descent becoming president.”
    And the fact that the inauguration of a person of color is happening in conjunction with the celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy is not lost on Farrior. She sees the timing as something more than just coincidence … she sees it as something divinely ordained.
    “It’s sort of amazing that it would happen at this time,” said Farrior. “Someone said that it seems to have a religious aspect, not that religion is the cure all and the panacea for everything, but some are thinking that it’s an omen … something is most definitely happening.
    “I have a brother who says that God is in this thing,” said Farrior, “to which I have to say, ‘God is in everything.’”
    Just as Farrior thinks God is in everything, she — and many others at this crossroad in American history — believes that President-Elect Obama is walking in the footsteps of those who blazed the Civil Rights trail before him … a trail splattered with the blood, the sweat, the tears of those who believed that all men and women, indeed, are created equal.
    Another who believes Obama is following the path worn by Dr. King and Rosa Parks and Medgar Evans, is 77-year-old Illa Haire, who will be attending her first inauguration when Obama takes the oath.
    And like Farrior, she is also in a daze of disbelief at what has come to pass.
    And she too talks of the tide of “change.”
    “I never in my lifetime thought this would happen,” said Haire. “It didn’t look like it was ever going to happen. The country has come a long, long way. This is history right here. And all the things Dr. King and the rest went through … this makes it all so very worthwhile.”
    While Farrior and Haire share the historical perspective of this monumental change, having lived through the Civil Rights struggles, having seen the televised attacks by Bull Connor’s dogs and the loosening of  the fire hoses and heard the hateful vitriol of George Wallace, some see the change in a more immediate and contemporary way.
Folks like Fayetteville City Councilmember Charles Evans, who has seen the change and the renewed belief in the political system Obama’s election has brought to a generation of young people. Evans will also be attending Obama’s inauguration.
    “Unlike Mrs. Farrior, I’m not amazed,” said Evans. “While I understand her amazement, I saw how energized the younger folks became over this man. So while I’m extremely excited, I’m not surprised.”
    {mosimage}“They (the young people) looked beyond the color,” said Evans. “They looked at the needs of the country. This man sang the praises of change, change, change and they embraced that. They’re seeing that they can make a very big difference on our future.”
    Someone else who sees and feels the change, the electricity of the moment sweeping across the country like a benevolent tidal wave, is Haire’s son, Fayetteville City Councilmember D.J. Hare, who will be alongside his mother for the inauguration.
    “I think it’s going to heal up a lot of wounds … not all of them,” said D.J. Haire. “We still have a long, long way to go and he’s got a lot on his shoulders. But I really think the country is pulling together.
    “This is an opportunity for black folks to stick their chests out … but now we need to go even further than that,’ said Haire. “ I tell people if their yard is not clean, clean up your yard; if you’ve got cars that aren’t running and broken down let’s fix them or take them to the junkyard. Those may sound like simple things but it’s sticking your chest out and having pride. I’m telling the young men ‘Pull your pants up. Take the earring out, do this, make this change in your life.’ Let’s make more of a significant change than just this. And I see it. I hear it in conversations. I think we’re going to see even more changes coming.”
    Even though Haire sees the inauguration as a chance for African Americans to stick out their chest, he says it’s also an opportunity for all people to feel pride and embrace change — after all, he points out, Obama is not only half black, but also half white.
    This sense of pride and excitement is most definitely shared by Haire’s fellow councilmember, Val Applewhite.
Like all the others previously mentioned in this article, she is also attending her very first inauguration.
    “I am so excited,” said Applewhite. “It is very, very special. When he (Obama) came to Fayetteville to speak I looked around and there was such a mixture of people … a mixture that you don’t normally see in Fayetteville.
    “It’s all a reflection of Dr. King’s dream,” said Applewhite. “His dream that we could all come together … that we could change things for the better. I have no doubt that during the inauguration I will start crying … it’s just such an emotional thing.”
    When Applewhite cries they will be tears of joy that will undoubtedly mingle with the waterfall created by millions of like minded folks as they weep for what they see as a new age … an age of renewed equality … an age of change.

Contact Tim Wilkins at 

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