On the road to the inaugurationby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Millions of people will be in Washington D.C. over the next two days to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. They will come to the capitol city from around the world and across the country to watch the historic swearing-in of the nation's first black president.
The throngs include three African American men from Minneapolis, and the 12-year-old son of one of them. They hit the road for Washington this weekend with no tickets to the inaugural and only a martial arts studio for accommodations. Minnesota Public Radio's Brandt Williams rode along.
St. Paul, Minn. — We're only going to be gone for maybe four days, so you'd think four men and a 12-year-old boy would pack a little lighter.
The back of Ray Seville's shiny black 2007 Chevy Suburban is packed tightly with baggage, extra jackets and more bags. The organizer of the trip is Ralph Crowder, and he's bringing his son Rahlik along for the trip.
We are also joined by Charles Hallman, a reporter for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the state's oldest African American owned newspaper.
We left the Twin Cities on Saturday afternoon about 1 p.m.
Our intrepid driver, Ray Seville is a true road warrior. He's made many trips to the East Coast in winter time.
But Seville still regrets a trip he didn't make back in 1995. That's when he had to work in the Twin Cities during the Million Man March, also held in Washington D.C. So this time, Seville says he's getting to the Capitol no matter what.
"If we have to walk, push, ride the bus, train, car, plane, we're going to get there, because we want to be part of this moment," said Seville.
We'll get there in comfort. The Suburban has two built-in DVD players and plenty of 12-volt outlets to plug in electronic devices. We are wired.
While Ray takes cell phone calls on his Blackberry, Rahlik keeps his eyes glued to the DVD screen playing Super Mario Brothers in the back seat.
As we zip through the monotony of the Wisconsin leg of the trip, we discuss the significance of the inauguration of the nation's first black president.
Hallman, the Spokesman-Recorder reporter, is 54 years-old. As a child living in Detroit, he witnessed firsthand the race riots and burning of his city in the late '60s. Those memories will be with him when he watches Obama become president of the United States.
"It's going to be a proud moment for me to be able to say I witnessed seeing that moment. Not only as a reporter, because I have to cover the event, but just being there, live, so I can feel the electricity," Hallman said. "I was in Washington D.C. about two weeks after the election, and you could feel the buzz and excitement of this new change. When you talk about change, this is no joke."
Rahlik's father Ralph Crowder is the catalyst for the trip. His son is underperforming academically, so for the past year he's spent several hours a day visiting Rahlik's school. He's become outspoken about the racial achievement gap in the school system, and he's also become active.
Crowder is coming to Washington D.C. to take his concerns to the larger stage. And what better time than on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration of the nation's first black president?
"If change is important, and if it's an issue, and it's obvious that it is, specifically for me with this education piece as it relates to our children, then what are you or we doing for that change? It's not Obama that's going to be the change. It's like he's a part of a bigger body of people connected together," said Crowder.
The sun goes down behind us as we hit Illinois. We also run into some traffic jams around Chicago, which slow our progress, but there is always stimulating conversation to break up the tedium of travelling.
Each man has strong opinions and has something to say about events unrelated to the inauguration, such as the battle between Hamas and Israel, or the sorry state of the economy. There is also lots of music.
Ater 1:00 a.m. Ralph Crowder relieves Seville behind the wheel. In order to keep him alert, along the Indiana Turnpike, Crowder needs the volume up.
As soon as he takes over, a fierce snowstorm reduces visibility to near zero. Crowder clicks on the 4-wheel drive and sallies forth.
He gets us through Ohio to Pennsylvania and in the wee, wee hours of the morning, we pull into a rest stop just outside Pittsburgh. There, Seville runs into a group of African American travelers from Detroit who are also going to the inauguration, and they have homemade Obama shirts to sell.
Ray takes over the driving, and as he and Ralph talk about how Obama's image is being sold around the world, I finally doze.
The nearly 20-hour trip ends in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Ralph gets us set up in our digs for the next few days -- a Tai Chi studio on the second floor of a storefront building.
There are lots of people walking down the street, which is lined with small shops and restaurants. And strung from the light poles are red, white and blue banners, reminders of why so many people are here for the next few days.
- Morning Edition, 01/19/2009, 7:20 a.m.