July 17, 2009
On Air Force One with President Obama
One of the great moments in life is participating in history. Not many people gain that opportunity–but I have more than once. The pinnacle for a journalist with a passion for politics is to cover the White House. For the past six months, I have periodicallyÂ traveled to Washington to witness to President Barack Obama remake America. I was the first magazine editor to interview him. I’ve had the privilege of sitting in the front row of news conferences as he has detailed his economic agenda and foreign policy objectives. But nothing prepared me for the experience of traveling on Air Force One.
I received the call on Monday from Corey Ealons, who works for the White House press office. He told me that I had been invited to participate in a reporters’ roundtable with the president as he flew to New York to address the NAACP convention commemorating the organization’s centennial anniversary.
I didn’t realize how profoundly this assignment would affect me. Some 45 years ago, the Civil Rights Act was passed. Up to that time, African Americans were basically relegated to second-class citizenship, denied the right to participate fully in American society. Yesterday, I was one of seven black journalists with an exclusive audience with the first African American President of the United States on the airborne White House–one of the world’s greatest symbols of power and authority. It would not be compromising my status as a fair and balanced journalist to admit that a wave of pride washed over me. I had come a long way from my hometown newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia. More importantly, African Americans had trekked an incredible distance over the last century to possess this level of power–and literally have a front-row seat covering it.
The trip started in the White House press briefing room where I met my fellow travelers–TV One’s Roland Martin, American Urban Radio’s April Ryan, Ebony‘s Kevin Chappell, Essence Magazine’s Cynthia Gordy, New York Amsterdam News‘ Herb Boyd and BET’s Pamela Gentry. When the van that carried me and my colleagues from the White House arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, my heart began to leap out of my chest as I viewed the huge blue-and-white 747 jetliner in front of me.
We didn’t board the plane from the rear with the rest of the White House press corps. We climbed the stairs in the front of the plane–the same stairs as the president. As we entered the plane, I was immediately awedÂ by the stately interior. It smelled like power. We were then taken to the guest area–a row of brown leather seats and elegant dining tables. This is the same area where dignitaries and the presidentialÂ guests are seated–most recently, baseball legend Willie Mays who accompanied President Obama to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. Chapell, Ryan and Gentry had traveled on Air Force One before, but never from this vantage point.