By James O’Leary — 1/19/09

Last night after a long
train ride from Boston, I had the distinct
pleasure of attending the African-American Church Inaugural Ball. It
was an exciting, emotional, and exhausting experience.

The
evening began with an opportunity to speak with the Reverend Jesse
Jackson, who spoke very passionately about the election of Barack Obama
and his seemingly anxious anticipation for the rest of the week. Being
able to meet with such an influential civil rights leader at the time
the nation is getting ready to swear in its first African-American
president helped me appreciate the history of the movement as a whole
at this special moment in our country’s history.

The full brunt
of this history hit me during the opening of the ball. A video montage
played as the entire ballroom sang the hymn “Lift Every Voice and
Sing.” Seeing the images of slaves, dogs attacking protesters, and
other hardships from black history made it almost hard to imagine this
was the history of the United States. The montage concluded with a
photo of Barack Obama and the simple title “Mr. President.” The crowd
erupted with cheers and the emotion in the room and in myself was
overwhelming.

I
came away from this inaugural ball with a true sense of fulfillment as
an American. An entire people have had their faith in the American
dream restored thanks to their faith in God, their country, and a man
from Illinois who dared to hope.