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Out in the fresh air of 125th Street in Harlem, New York just minutes after President Obama gave his acceptance speech, there seems to be almost one street vendor for every onlooker. The vast audience dispersed in just a short amount of time once Obama’s inauguration address ended, but a few people lingered to breathe in the air of freedom and accept the simple gift of a shared experience.
Amidst swirling newspapers littering the plaza outside of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, Beatrice Dupont, 62, a secretary who is now disabled from secondhand smoke, climbed as high as she could to take a photo of the huge Jumbotron which was set up by Time Warner Cable. Despite her ailments, Dupont felt it was important for her to leave the comfort of her home and share this experience with others, even in the bitter cold and even with complete strangers. “This gathering shows that people of different creeds and backgrounds can be warmly embraced by all,” Dupont says. “It shows that Americans have evolved to a higher level of social consciousness.”
That embrace, though figurative, actually manifested itself from a kind stranger. Unique Brown, 35, a complete stranger to Dupont, wrapped his arms around her waist to carry her down from the icy sculpture of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. She thanked him gladly and they went their separate ways. Brown, a laborer, said that Obama would definitely be able to make a change because of his way of thinking. “He speaks like a preacher,” Brown says. “He speaks to the people, not at the people like President George Bush. Bush made decisions without bringing it to the people.”
Among the few people that peppered the street vendors, was Aboubacar Toure, a student from the Ivory Coast at the New York Lung Center. Toure did not speak English well and did not have anything to say, but long after others had left he continued to stare at the Jumbotron with a look of distant pride and hope.
Further down the street in the warmth of the Apollo Theater, Corine Kemp Scott, an interfaith ministerm and Nadirah Elamin, a nurse, joyfully joked around and took photos of one another. From the speech, Kemp Scott liked the way Obama injected the theme of inclusiveness in terms of all religions and all people, along with his call to responsibility and accountability to Americans. “We can complain and talk about what is not being done,” Scott says. “But each of us has to be accountable.”
As television announcers in the background questioned Obama’s ability to keep his promises, Elamin felt that the most memorable part of his speech was the assurance that everything would be okay. “We will be successful if all Americans participate in the journey of the recovery of our country,” says Elamin.