Presidential inauguration inspires Arkansans


While the second inauguration of President Barack Obama is now 10 days in the past, the memories made that day are still fresh for several participants who took the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission trip to Washington, D.C., for the event.

Family affair

Patricia Berry made the trip with her daughter Shannon Berry of Memphis and her niece Rashunda Johnson of Little Rock.

Berry, the executive director of the Ivy Center for Education, a Pine Bluff mentoring program for youth, said that the inauguration journey was important for several reasons.

“As the director of the Ivy Center I was really interested in the young people on the trip and how they reacted to the inauguration,” Berry said. “It was really a learning experience for everyone involved. Learning is what we are about at the Ivy Center.”

“The trip was also a chance for me to bond with my niece and my daughter,” Berry said. “We had never been on an experience like that before. We had just lost my mother the week before and we needed that time to get away, bond with each other and relax.”

Berry said that her experience at the inauguration showed her that all people basically have the same needs and desires regardless of political affiliation and that each person is part of a larger whole.

“The most memorable part of the trip for me was meeting different people, especially the ones on the bus and bonding with them,” Berry said. “I developed some relationships that did not end on that bus trip. It is good to learn about other people and to get their viewpoints. You realize that your way is not always the right way.”

Johnson, who has an extensive background in education and is currently pursuing an educational doctorate degree, agreed with her aunt that the trip was important for their family.

“My aunt initially approached her daughter and I about going to the inauguration,” Johnson said. “She felt like it would be an important part of history and that we probably won’t see another two term African American president in our lifetimes. She wanted to share in that with her girls.”

“The experience is definitely a story for my children and my grandchildren,” Johnson said. “It was so important to get to spend time with my aunt and my cousin. We buried my grandmother the week before the trip so going to the inauguration was much-needed by the three of us.”

Johnson said that she had second thoughts about going to Washington after her grandmother’s passing but someone urged her to reconsider.

“A very close friend of mine encouraged me to get on the bus,” Johnson said. “He put it in perspective for me and made me realize that in the big picture it was important to witness this event and to spend time with my family. I called him after we got back and told him that he was right.”

Johnson said that simply being in Washington for the inauguration was the best part of the trip for her.

“It was so important just to be standing on the grounds of the nation’s capital,” Johnson said. “Even though there were tons of people there just being out there on the grounds was enough for me; just being able to say I was there when this was going on. That is what did it for me.”

Johnson said that she also enjoyed the camaraderie on the bus trip.

“As horrible and as long as that bus trip was, the second best part of the trip was actually being on the bus with people I didn’t know before and just hearing their stories about why they were going there,” Johnson said. “Just being able to hear their reasons for going.”

Johnson said that her degree of political awareness has evolved in the four years since Obama was first elected.

“I voted for Obama the first time because he was African American but the second time I paid close attention to the issues,” Johnson said. “This trip made me even more aware of the crises and challenges we face as a nation and reaffirms my choice for President. I firmly believe that he is the right candidate for the position.”

Other voices

Classie Green, who served two terms as president of the Pine Bluff branch of the NAACP, made her way to the inauguration full of joy and thanks.

“One of my favorite quotes is Rosa [Parks] sat, Martin [Luther King Jr.] walked and Obama ran,” Green said. “President Obama’s election signifies the true American dream, where we are respected by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin. I only wish that his mom and grandmother could see his leadership and compassion at work in America as our President.”

“President Obama and Michelle have been ideal leaders as parents and partners in marriage,” Green said. “To attend this inauguration was a dream come true. The patriotism was unforgettable. I want to thank the MLK Commission for a wonderful trip and the New Community Baptist Church for driving our group between Pine Bluff and Little Rock.”

Kevin Hunt works in the Arkansas Governor’s Office and made the trip as a representative of the state.

“I was glad to have the opportunity to spend time with people who are passionate about this country and proud to have this President,” Hunt said. “I had the opportunity to talk with them and to see the joy that they had in not only being able to vote for the President but also see him take the Oath of Office.”

Hunt was inspired by the experience.

“It was inspirational and it was wonderful to see the diversity in the crowd and how appropriate that it came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Hunt said. “Those of us who believe we can still have the ability to move this country forward rather than backwards wanted to hear from the President.”

Witnessing history with thousands of others will stay with Hunt as a lasting memory of the inauguration.

“The most memorable part of the trip was seeing in person the President of the United States take the Oath of Office in front of thousands of people,” Hunt said.