The Baltimore Sun


'Beginning of a new era of higher hopes'

As when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon, or Intel introduced the first microprocessor, Obama's presidency ushers in a new era of possibility.

It will not just be a great day for black people, folks with "funny names," or children of immigrants from the global south and east. It will be a great day for all people when President Barack Hussein Obama is sworn into office.

For the NAACP, and for everyone who has worked toward this moment, toward a country that finds unity in and draws strength from its diversity, this moment is to be celebrated. We celebrate the beginning of a new era of higher hopes for our country. We celebrate the beginning of a new era in which those hopes compel us to work even harder. We celebrate a victory that will place an African-American man behind the desk in the Oval Office.

The NAACP has worked successfully for 100 years to tear down the barriers of economic and political exclusion in this country. For more than half a century we have systematically attacked the exclusion of people of color from higher office.

Yet, with these accomplishments in protecting and ensuring our civil rights, there is greater work ahead still. One of our biggest challenges is addressing a human rights epidemic that is both fed by and feeds civil rights crises: over-incarceration.

As it stands, our prison systems across the country are disproportionately holding captive the promise of what could be in many of our African-American men and women. For every one African-American in the president's seat, there will be 1 million African-Americans behind bars across the country.

Our opportunity to correct the situation is now. In the times of tough choices brought on by budget crises, many public servants find the courage and consensus that were scarce just moments before.On the day of his inauguration, Barack Obama will be celebrated as the first black president - a transformative path-breaker in American politics. However, on the day after, he is simply the 44th president - ultimately bound by all the constraints and pressures imposed on every president before him. Without an irresistible force pushing for change, change will not come. We, the NAACP and all others who believe America has not yet reached the pinnacle of her greatness must work together to enable our nation's incoming president to make great change.


'Barack Obama ... makes us all visible'

Last year, while grocery shopping, I entered a discussion with an elderly neighbor of mine about President-elect Barack Obama as the first viable African-American candidate for the U.S. presidency. She told me that, for the first time in her life, she finally felt visible. The significance of her words will forever weigh on my heart and mind.

Because Barack Obama is visible, it makes us all visible.

While I was growing up, black people fought and even died to gain relevance in this country. We wanted to be seen as equals, but more so we longed to believe that this notion of equality was even possible. We had dreams about our futures and set goals for our lives, even at a time when these dreams and goals seemed impossible to attain.

I often share the story of my swearing-in when I was first elected to the U.S. Congress. For the first time in my life, I saw tears in the eyes of my father, a former sharecropper with only an elementary school education. I asked him why he was crying, and he told me that he saw in me what he could have been.

Barack Obama has broken a significant barrier for African-Americans. He is showing us all what we can be. This is a powerful concept that means different things for each of us.

For the elderly woman at the grocery store who is entering the final stretch of her life, it means a life that is finally substantiated. It means visibility of the amazing gifts that she, as a person, has contributed to the world.

For me, it becomes a motivation to continue reaching higher and higher, a motivation to continue to dream big. I am at a point in my life where I still have time to attain the dreams that I never would have imagined possible 20 years ago.

Most importantly, though, is what this historic election means to our children. I hear young people everywhere talking about Barack Obama. Children who are so young that they are still learning to read have told me about how President Obama will turn our nation around and restore progress. These young men and women are blessed to have an Obama whom they can emulate.


'To revive the spirit of this great nation'

The election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States is a momentous event, one which has energized the country with a spirit of hope and change for the better. The nation has charted a new course for itself, and the time is now upon us to both celebrate, and prepare to rebuild this country, making it stronger than ever.

Early in 2008, before I endorsed a candidate for president, I had an opportunity to speak with the candidates, including Senator Obama. We talked about his priorities for urban communities struggling with what would become America's greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. At that time, he recognized the importance of big cities in not only carrying the United States through this crisis, but also as the base for a new green economy.

In the months following our conversation, he waged a long and difficult campaign for the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency. Throughout the campaign, he impressed me time and again with his humility, strength and character. His campaign was personal and dynamic. He reached out to voters, old and young, who had never voted before. On Election Day, it was an honor to stand in line for over two hours with my neighbors as we anxiously waited our turn to vote for a man who promises to revive the spirit of this great nation.

I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a transition working group focused on urban economic policy. I, along with two dozen mayors from across the country, was asked to provide input on what I would like to see in a federal economic recovery package. His team was giving considerable attention to specific initiatives known for putting citizens to work and keeping urban America vibrant as a major hub for jobs.

When I am in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, I will witness Barack Obama fulfill the dreams of my parents' and grandparents' generations, and I will see great new potential for my children, and their children's children. I could not ask for anything more from this country, or from a president.


'A moment that may prove even larger'

Tuesday's inauguration will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest historical moments of our lifetimes. At noon, we'll come together as a nation and watch a black man be sworn in as the president of the United States of America - an achievement many imagined would never happen just two generations after Dr. King was killed.

For those who have known Barack Obama since law school and before, we were not surprised.

President-elect Obama and I went to Harvard Law School at the same time - he graduated the year before me. Even when he was a young man, those of us who knew Barack knew he would leave his mark on history. We saw his now-famous calming leadership firsthand during a time of turmoil at Harvard Law, and very few of us, if any, were surprised to learn he turned down lucrative offers on Wall Street to return to the South Side of Chicago.

Barack's election is a moment that may prove even larger than we already think.

For years, scholars have spoken of the list of the first African-Americans to hold important positions or reach certain heights. Now, Barack Obama will be added to the list as the first African-American president of the United States.

Obama's inauguration is a moment to look beyond that list of "firsts" and reach for grander accolades that are marked more by the accomplishment than the color of the accomplisher's skin.

On Tuesday, I'll watch Barack Obama take the oath of office and think back to the greatness we saw in him years before. More importantly, though, I'll be thinking of my grandchildren, who will know of that moment not only because a black man became president, but because of the great things his calming leadership made possible.


'The power of education to transform lives'

Many Americans of my generation and older, of all races, who grew up in the 1950s and '60s or before, never could have imagined someone looking like Barack Obama, or me, becoming president of the United States.

During the campaign, I was struck by the optimism and hope of my UMBC students about our country's future. Many of them, like America's younger generation in general, have had different experiences - and therefore different perspectives - from those of us who are older.

On Election Night, students shared with me their sense of enthusiasm about voting for the first time, and I thought about America in 1960, when John Kennedy became president. At that time, he challenged us in his inaugural address to commit to public service and the "struggle against ... poverty, disease, and war."

Almost a half-century later, as President-elect Obama takes office, a new period dawns, and no doubt he, too, will emphasize our common values and purpose as we continue addressing these same challenges.

As this new president takes office, I am reminded of the power of education to transform lives. The simple fact is he would not be where he is today - just as many of us would not be where we are - if we had not learned to read and think critically. When Mr. Obama speaks, we know he understands the issues and has the ability to tackle them.

For example, he knows the importance of strengthening public higher and K-12 education, and of expanding access to higher education by increasing financial aid for students and their families.

The inauguration and this moment in history are opportunities for all of us to focus on what makes America strong and free - the importance of education, opportunities, hard work, and integrity; an appreciation for our communities, families, and children; and concern for others balanced by individual responsibility. Barack Obama's success will be America's success, and that success will depend on all of us.


Inaugural visitors

* Forget MARC. It's sold out.

* MTA commuter buses will depart Kent Island, Annapolis, Columbia, Scaggsville-Burtonsville, Frederick, Upper Marlboro and three Southern Maryland locations the morning of Jan. 20 and connect with the Washington Metro. Tickets can be purchased onboard. Reservations are not required. Round-trip tickets are $10. Exact change is required. Schedules and other information at

* One of the most economical ways to go from Baltimore is to take the light rail to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport ($1.60, one way) and catch the B30 Metrobus ($3.10, one way) to Greenbelt Metro station. Oversize buses will run at roughly 20-minute intervals, and extra buses will be on hand to meet unexpected demand. The first bus leaves BWI at 7 a.m. Don't stay late. The last bus leaves Greenbelt at 10 p.m.

* Parking at Metro subway lots, normally paid by SmartCard, will be $4, cash only, on Inauguration Day. Lots open at 3:30 a.m. and are expected to fill quickly.

* Plan carefully which Metro stops to use based on where you expect to be. For the parade route, use such stations as Union Station, Judiciary Square, Gallery Place and Metro Center. For the Mall, access may be easier from L'Enfant Plaza, Farragut North or Farragut West. Smithsonian and Archives/ Navy Memorial stations will be closed. The Mt Vernon Sq 7th St-Convention Center station closes at 7:30 am. The Judiciary Square station closes at 4 pm.

Certain downtown stations may be designated "exit-only" between 4 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

* If using the Metro, expect to encounter multiple lines - to buy tickets, to pass turnstiles and to be admitted to the platforms. The cost of a day pass is $7.80.

* Washington officials advise that it will not be possible for visitors to attend both the swearing-in and the parade because of limited mobility.

* People expecting to arrive aboard charter, church or school buses should make sure the operators have registered their vehicles with District of Columbia officials to ensure a place to discharge passengers and park.

* Visitors who decide to park their cars and take a Metrobus into Washington can plot out their trips by visiting the WMATA Web site and using its trip planner. The buses will be operating on a modified Saturday schedule, so most routes to outer suburbs such as Bowie and Odenton will not be running. When using the trip planner be sure to set the date for Jan. 20, 2009.

* Traffic in Washington is expected to be extremely heavy and parking may be scarce. Visitors are being encouraged to use mass transit and to leave early in the morning and late in the evening.

* Visitors from Baltimore can find parking at such stations as Greenbelt on the Green Line, Glenmont and Wheaton on the Red Line, New Carrollton on the Orange Line and Largo Town Center on the Blue Line. Parking is also expected to be available at FedEx Field near Largo.

* Metro officials advise subway users to allow several hours to pass before trying to return home after the inauguration ceremonies.

* For return trips, walking to a station farther up the line could increase chances of catching a train before it fills. For instance, Red Line riders heading for Glenmont might want to walk to Dupont Circle. Orange Line riders heading for New Carrollton could board at Foggy Bottom. Green Line riders to Beltsville could walk to the Waterfront station at 4th and M streets S.W.

Other travelers

* Motorists traveling to points south of Washington during the inaugural weekend should avoid the Capital Beltway and instead use such roads as U.S. 301 through Southern Maryland or Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley. Travelers from Cecil County and points north should consider taking U.S. 13 down the Delmarva peninsula.

* Travelers heading to the Northeast late Jan. 20 and on Jan. 21 are advised to find alternatives to the Interstate 95 corridor, such as Interstate 83 to York or Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. Travelers to the Philadelphia area may encounter lighter traffic on U.S. 1. Potential backups at the Delaware Toll Plaza can be avoided by taking U.S. 40.

* For travel crossing Baltimore harbor, backups are less likely on the Francis Scott Key Bridge than at the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels.

* For local travel in the I-95 corridor, avoid the interstate and Maryland 295 and use U.S. 1, U.S. 29, U.S. 40 or Maryland Route 7.

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