I saw Mr. President in Selma, Alabama.
His arrival was announced by the motorcade that drove across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward the crowd of 25,000. The anticipatory silence erupted into cheers as Mr. President Obama, First Lady Obama, former President Bush, and former First Lady Bush stepped from the black vehicle adorned with two waving American flags. The powerful four walked across the front of the crowd and onto the stage, accompanied by Alabama’s governor and two congressional representatives, one of which is the Civil Rights icon John Lewis.
For those who may not know, John Lewis was the youngest “Big Six” leader that led the Civil Rights Movement alongside Martin Luther King. If you have seen the movie Selma, he was the young man sitting in MLK’s car who recited King’s sermons back to him and encouraged him that the struggle was well worth it. The only one of the “Big Six” still living, he stepped up on the stage enveloped in the applause of the 25,000. After reflecting on the struggle that won African-Americans the right to vote and the march that stands as a symbol for all American’s right to equality, he stopped to catch his breath before introducing the first African-American president to the podium.
Admitting that 50 years ago he never would have guessed he would be introducing the nation’s first African-American president at the base of the very bridge he marched across for freedom, he wiped a tear from his eye and shook hands with Mr. President Obama, who then took his place at the podium.
Mr. President delivered one of the most powerful speeches I have heard, declaring our nation strong enough for self-criticism, resilient in faith, and relentlessly passionate in pursuing the right to dream. The crowd of all “races” and ages and genders continuously shouted “amen” and “hallelujah!” Men and women who had walked that bridge 50 years ago raised their hands in praise and thanksgiving, and it was so evident that the power of the nonviolent social movement led by Doctor King was only successful through incredibly deep and authentic faith.
As I looked up at the stage to see our nation’s white and black presidents side-by-side, Republican and Democrat side-by-side, I couldn’t help but nod my head and say amen. Though there is reason we must continue to lament the fact that racism still exists in our nation, yesterday we got to celebrate that every once in awhile, divine moments of unity and equality do happen, and for me that is enough to stir hope. As Obama said, “our work is never done,” but in the past 50 years we have come quite a ways, so there is due reason to celebrate as we keep moving forward.