Obama wins

President-elect Barack Obama addresses his supporters during the election night rally in Grant Park, Chicago. (Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans / November 4, 2008)

Streaming into an unparalleled moment in history, tens of thousands lit up Grant Park with a display of election night electricity not seen in generations. Under crystal skies and a crescent moon, they came from across the country and around the world, stood shoulder to shoulder and cheered joyously for President-elect Barack Obama, each drawn for reasons as diverse as the faces around them.

"The energy is shifting," said Linda Robb, a white woman from Buffalo Grove who burst into tears as Obama won. "There is a transformational shift happening - consciousness is being raised."

"My father had to ride on the back of the bus," said Page Cooper, a commodities broker from the West Side. "Now look at where we are."

Paul Reinhardt, a white Detroit resident, sat along the periphery of the pandemonium with his four adopted children, who are all black: "One day, they will look back and say they were here in Grant Park when the first African-American became president of the United States. To me, that means anything is possible."

Rukaya Abdallah, 13, came from River Forest with her mother. She looked at the people around her, and something she heard on television during the long campaign suddenly registered.

"Different cultures," she said. "Everyone's coming together."

They were never more together than when official word came that Obama would become the 44th president of the United States.

A deafening cheer erupted from the crowd -- a frenetic, grinning, often teary-eyed mix of whites and blacks and Latinos and Asians.

In an homage to the Obama campaign's rallying cry of "Yes, we can!" the more than 150,000 revelers thrust their fists in the air and chanted "Yes, we did! Yes, we did!"

Marcie Rogers began to weep uncontrollably and shriek, "Thank you, Lord!"

"I never thought I would live to see a black president," she said, holding a tissue to her eyes. "I've lived through segregation." Outside the park, cars on Michigan Avenue honked their horns, the noise blending with whoops and whistles from the sidewalks to form a victorious cacophony.

Katrina Oroye strolled through the chaos with her 6-year-old son, BaBa Tunde. "I know that I can tell him that he can be anything that he wants to," she said.

Clutching his mother's hand, the boy took her words to heart.

"I want to be a better person," he said. "I want to be president."

The only quiet moments of the evening came when Obama took the stage, his voice echoing across the park as the swollen crowd looked on with rapt attention.

Just before Obama walked out, Allan Landau, a 53-year-old from the River West neighborhood reflected on the presidential campaign he had helped as a volunteer on the streets of Chicago. Born in Canada, Landau is not yet a U.S. citizen and was unable to vote. But that didn't take away from the emotion of the moment.

"This might be the happiest day of my life," he said. "This might be the most important day in American history."